Change is difficult at any age, so it’s natural that seniors sometimes have difficulties during their transition to assisted living communities. It’s undoubtedly a very big lifestyle change. And while we are true believers in the benefits of assisted living, there’s no getting around the fact that the move involves changes that seniors don’t always like. Psychologist Dr. Deborah L. Stote said in a recent interview, “Older adults who are moving from their home into assisted living typically encounter varying degrees of adjustment disorder.”
Why Moving to Senior Living Can Be Challenging
Some of the difficult aspects of the move can include:
- The need to significantly downsize, often from a spacious home to a more moderately sized apartment
- Being forced into a new routine. For example, seniors who like to eat late dinner may not appreciate living in a community where dinner service ends at 7pm.
- Resentment about having to live with people who are frail or disabled (even when the senior frail or disabled herself)
- Feelings of abandonment or betrayal
- Frustration surrounding a perceived loss of independence
Of course many seniors have no trouble at all adjusting to assisted living, and take to it from day one. And the seniors that initially find the transition difficult usually adapt quickly, and often come to recognize that aspects of assisted living that bothered them are actually beneficial. Residents find it to be a great relief to downsize and not worry about housekeeping and steep stairs. The dozens of strangers encountered during the first days quickly become friends and companions. And for seniors who moved not altogether willingly, their feelings of abandonment and betrayal often turn into feelings of gratitude based on the recognition that their family members were acting out of love when they arranged the move.
5 Tips for Easing the Transition
Seniors will best adjust to their new home with some support and encouragement from family members during the senior’s first days and weeks at the senior community. The key, Dr. Stote says, is that seniors who are relocating “need positive reassurance that they are moving into a new chapter of their lives, rather than ending the life they have always known.”
1. Take your parent to visit the community as often as possible before the move. After your family has selected a senior living community, take your parent to visit frequently before the move. Attend meals and events that allow your parent to become familiar with the residents, staff, and layout of the community. This will make the community and everyone who lives and works their seem less foreign when your parent eventually does move-in.
2. Bring personal items and duplicate aspects of their old home in their new living space. In a recent post about my own grandmother’s transition to assisted living, I described a tactic that seemed to help her feel more at home in her new apartment: “Her home was practically replicated within her new assisted living apartment. The bedroom in her assisted living apartment was made to look just like her bedroom at home; her reading glasses and a Bible were on the nightstand, all the photos were in just the right places; it was a perfect reconstruction. The living room was similarly cloned.” Make sure your parent has input about keepsakes to bring to the new home.
3. Coax your parent to participate in activities. Even elderly people can have a “too-cool-for-school” attitude and be dismissive of assisted living activities. But your parent is likely to adjust well if she or he gets involved with activities and makes some friends at the community. Assisted living communities tend to have a wide variety of activities, so while not all of them will necessarily be appealing to your loved one, there’s bound to be some that do.
4. Encourage your parent to help out at the community. Many assisted living communities have resident volunteers that take on roles at the community such as answering phones, running an onsite store, managing the library, or sponsoring a club. When residents feel useful and as though they have a purpose, it can improve their outlook and help immensely with the transition.
5. Allow your parent to be independent. While the tips we outlined above can help your older parent transition, don’t become too protective or feel as though you need to be with them all the time during the transition, as this can be counterproductive. Visiting during often during the first days after the move does help make sure your loved one doesn’t feel abandoned, but refrain from taking this too far, as excessive “handholding” could prevent your parent from successfully adapting to her or his new home.
How did you help your older loved one adjust to a move to assisted living? Do you have other ideas for tips? Any other thoughts? We welcome your comments below.