Tips Help Individuals Adjust Emotionally To A Senior Living Community

Experts Recommend Family Approach.

Sometimes it takes a crowd to help a loved one adjust emotionally to a senior living community. The whole family should be involved, stressing familiarity and continuation of hobbies as keys to a smooth transition. Remember that senior community doesn’t mean nursing home; seniors can live full and happy lives in new surroundings.

To foster success, the transition should begin before a move, according to experts.

“Preplanning for the future is so important.  Talking with your loved one before he or she needs to move is key,” says Christine Hall-Werner, Senior Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Franke Tobey Jones, a continuing care retirement community in Tacoma, Washington. “Ease in with the conversation as your loved one may not be receptive at first.  Try to visit a few communities together.  Once your loved one visits a community, he or she may find that it’s a lot nicer than imagined.”

Deciding To Move

First of all, how should families deal with the whole issue of deciding when it is time for a loved one to relocate to a senior living community? Without proper goals and planning, the issue can lead to family squabbles.

According to Hall-Werner, families should be proactive, not reactive, when it comes to late-life decisions.

The best time to decide when loved ones should move into assisted living is when they don’t need to. Being proactive gives you time to tour communities, talk over options and understand the wishes of loved ones.  There may even be waiting lists, so getting on one or two waiting lists ahead of time helps.  Most waiting lists have refundable deposits.

“Being reactive means you’re probably dealing with a crisis,” Hall-Werner says.  “Maybe your loved one has fallen and broken a hip, is not doing medications correctly, is getting lost, not keeping up on hygiene or not doing laundry. At this point, you probably need to make the move fairly quickly and don’t have time to tour several communities.”

Finding The Right Fit

Even though most assisted living communities offer similar services, every senior living community has its own personality.  It’s best to tour at least two or three communities to see them in person, taste their food, see their apartments and compare prices, she says.

Important Selection Factors?

When evaluating a senior living community, families should consider:

  • Price;
  • How many meals are included;
  • Whether housekeeping is included;
  • How far an apartment is from the dining commons;
  • Whether the community allows pets;
  • Whether the community offers activities;
  • Whether the community offers the next level of care.

Privacy, Privacy, Privacy

Privacy is a concern for many older adults contemplating a relocation. Hall-Werner says you should find out what privacy means to your loved one, then communicate and be specific with community staff members about your parents’ expectations.

“Privacy and dignity are of the utmost importance to most people, and we do everything we can to honor that privacy in our community,” she says. “When you tour the various communities, ask about privacy and see how the staff answers.  Each assisted living resident should have a lock on his or her door, and should be allowed to lock the door at any time.”

Pointers To Help Loved Ones Adjust Emotionally

Hall-Werner says many residential communities offer the Resident Ambassadors program. The program assigns a resident buddy to each new occupant. Find out if the senior living community your loved one wants to move to offers the Resident Ambassador program.  It may ease fears of being alone and not knowing how to get around campus.

“At Franke Tobey Jones, we have three or four Resident Ambassadors for each of our buildings — Cottages, Garden Apartments, Tobey Jones Building and Assisted Living — and every new resident is assigned one Resident Ambassador in their building,” she says.  “Our Resident Ambassadors really enjoy the job, and our new residents are always appreciative of their friendship and help. I see our Resident Ambassadors touring new residents around campus, having meals with them in the dining room, coming by their apartment to pick them up for exercise or an outing. It’s really wonderful.”

Hall-Werner says families should ask the senior living community staff what type of activities and programs they offer to new residents to help them adjust.  Fear of being alone and moving away from friends you have known all your life is a very real emotion.

Items from home will help many people find their comfort zone.

“Take furniture, photos, knickknacks and other things that bring your loved one pleasure and comfort to the new community to make their apartment or room home,” she said. “They should be surrounded by many of the items that bring them joy or comfort.”

New Adventure

Talk to your mother or father about trying to be open-minded about moving into a senior living community. Stress
that it is a new adventure that can be fun.

“There are typically so many social activities, it’s hard to be bored,” she says. “I’ve had many residents tell me they moved into our senior living community kicking and screaming and within weeks found themselves loving it here. Most say it’s the best decision they ever made.  Once they give up the housework, gardening, grocery shopping and cooking, they have a whole new lease on life and can just have fun.”

How Can Adult Children Help?

The biggest role for adult children is to be supportive, Hall-Werner says. It’s hard to move out of a home you’ve lived in for 40 years. It’s hard to part with all the memories that reside in the family home, and it’s hard to leave your neighbors.

“Adult children should try to help with the process of sorting through decades of stuff and figuring out where it should all go,” she says.

Hall-Werner says families should arrange for their parents to continue hobbies and activities in their new home. Familiarity is one of the keys to a successful transition.

“Often times we’ll already have a group of residents that get together to knit or quilt or read or sing or walk or garden or go to the symphony,” she says. “But if we don’t, several times I’ve seen a new resident start a new group, including bridge, bunco or painting.  There are typically other residents that want to join in the fun.  We also run a Senior Center about a mile from our senior living community, and it has lots of activities happening too.  If we don’t have exactly what the resident is interested in, often times the Senior Center will, and we provide transportation there.  We had a resident move in a couple years ago that has played viola all her life.  There are no groups to play with in here, but I’ve seen her entertaining with her viola at happy hours, resident socials and parties.”

Visit Your Parents

She says adult children should be willing to participate in activities with their parents at their new home.

“It’s time for the adult children to stop being caregivers and become kids again,” she says.  “Let the community take care of your loved one, and you just go and enjoy activities and/or meals with your loved ones.”

What Else Helps People Transition And Adjust?

She says the family should hire a company to help parents pack, move, unpack and set up the new apartment. Without organization, the home could end up in chaos.

“A moving company can help sort through everything, and then take extra items to the Goodwill, friends, recycling center or dump,” Hall-Werner says.

She says families should be realistic about what the kids can do in the transition process.  Often times the “kids” are in their late 50s and 60s and are not able to pack, lift boxes, unpack and move furniture.  Let the experts do this.

How Should A Family Deal With Financial Strain? 

The financial implications of a senior living community burden many families. Adult children should assure their parents they will be okay without help from their parents.

“Normally adult children are set, meaning they don’t need their parents’ money or their parents’ home or belongings,” she says. “Adult children should emphasize to their parents that they should plan for themselves…not plan for the adult children.  Their parents have worked hard for their money and should be able to use all of it for themselves…not to save for their family members.”

Riding High After 50

You want your loved one to thrive in his or her new environment. By taking common-sense steps, families can have confidence their loved one will live an active and healthy life in a new home.

Upside of Downsizing helps 50 plus-year-olds gain freedom by downsizing, which leads to a happy and healthy life balance. Contact: info@upsideofdownsizing.com

Mary Spann

Mary Spann is the founder and president of Upside of Downsizing®. In addition to her 26 years in construction, interior design, and home staging, Mary also holds college degrees in Social Work and Psychology, making her uniquely qualified to assist with the downsizing process, and helping 50 plus-year-olds achieve a happy and healthy life balance. Mary learned the key components of construction and interior design at an early age. Her father was a prominent custom home builder in Minnesota and Texas, and her mother was a successful interior designer and a principal broker.

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