Moving a parent or a loved one into assisted living is one of the more difficult milestones in any adult’s life. It represents a loss of independence for the parent and is stressful for everyone involved. Planning ahead for the challenges to come will make the experience easier for everyone.
First, put yourself in your elderly parent’s place. They might be leaving a home they’ve lived in for 50 years. They are certainly having to face new restrictions on their independence. They might be moving away from friends or neighbors they’ve known for years. If they are difficult or uncooperative, be compassionate about the massive change that this represents for them.
Second, acknowledge that you and any siblings and spouses probably are feeling guilty no matter how clearly mom or dad need the help. Look at the quality of life they are currently experiencing and if they would receive more and better care in an assisted living facility.
You may even feel like you should be taking care of them personally but you need to consider the rest of your family and your nursing or senior care skills. Families sometimes search for a fancy senior living facility based on easing their guilt. Instead, focus on what’s best for your loved one and the level of care that they will receive.
Third, try to recruit help from the family members who are going to be the most level-headed. You may find that distant siblings may feel left out and that might translate into unhappy, emotional responses directed at you. Remember that when they offer opinions they are most likely just trying to be helpful rather than criticize. They may be feeling guilty for not being closer.
Listen to their advice – they may have helpful insights – and acknowledge them for caring. You can also help yourself and the rest of the family by reaching out to everyone early in the process to recognize their feelings. Ask those who are not going to be hands-on in the process to help with support in the form of a kind word, a smile, or a hug.
Fourth, be honest with the assisted living facility staff. They need to have accurate information about any care needs your mom or dad may have. Sometimes a family will not disclose everything because they want to improve their chances of being accepted. This is not only dishonest, but it can be dangerous to your loved one’s health. You need to be transparent and provide as much information as possible so the staff can care for all of their needs.
Fifth, setup your loved one’s new rooms to be as comfortable as possible for him or her and for visiting family. It will be difficult to pare down a lifetime of belongings so again, be compassionate in the weeding out process. Remember, too, though that a cluttered, cramped space won’t be comfortable either.
You might also invite each family member to choose something for the new space that they loved to see at mom or dad’s. Maybe your sister loves the painting that’s been over the couch, or your grandson always liked to see the “old timey” photos. Work with the facility staff to get room dimensions and to find out what’s already there.
Finally, realize that you need to be an active care partner for your loved one. You’ll want to get to know the staff. Make sure you know who to contact with questions or concerns. The assisted living staff will need to know who they should contact for any care decisions. Remember that you’ve had a lifetime to get to know mom or dad. But realize too, that the staff members are professionals trained to care for seniors. They understand their health and daily living needs. Be actively present but don’t “helicopter parent” them or your loved one.
This will be an emotional and physical challenge for you and your family, but if you use these strategies to help you plan and prepare, it can be a less stressful experience with a more positive result for everyone.
David Reed is the David Reed, Founder and Executive Director of Assured Senior Living Solutions, a free senior care referral service in Fresno and Clovis. Contact him at (559) 283-2566 or www.assuredseniorlivingsolutionsfresno.com for more advice or recommendations.