Whatever the circumstances, the transition to assisted living is a major life event. Every life transition is stressful. Buying or selling a home, starting an exciting new career, losing someone you love, the birth of a child, and getting married all have that in common.
So let’s talk about how to make a transition to assisted living a positive and happy one. Here are five useful things to keep in mind (definitely don’t skip #5!):
1. Be Intentional and Inclusive About Picking the Right Place
In some ways, the work you do before the transition to assisted living is the most important part. Actually, it can be broken into two parts:
Selecting the Best Available Option
Ideally, choosing an assisted living community for an aging loved one shouldn’t come down to convenience and availability. Assuming you have at least a few senior living campuses to choose from, investing the time up-front to make sure you’re picking the right one will pay dividends. Will your loved one be happy, capably attended to, safe, and able to enjoy a level of autonomy suited to his or her situation? You don’t want to take things for granted given the weight of the decision.
Work your way backward from a positive outcome. Will your parent or loved one have access to things that interest them? Do they own, and presumably want to continue living with, a pet? Are the amenities they consider must-haves or high priorities available? Can you discern whether the social activities and vibe would make them happy?
Talk to managers and caregivers, assess the cleanliness and taste of the communal areas, and see what kind of sense you get of the culture. What kind of demeanor does the staff have? Questions and observations like this can quickly point you away from a wrong decision or towards a good decision.
Making the choice as inclusive as possible
In some cases, this process begins before the transition is even discussed with an aging parent. The way the decision will unfold or should unfold depends on the state of a loved one’s health and other circumstantial considerations. But it is generally kinder and happier for all involved if the decision is approached in a way that’s inclusive and conversational.
- Taking them on site visits and tours
- Having candid discussions about the pros and cons
- Collaboratively determining must-haves and nice-to-have amenities
- Openly discussing moving timelines and finances
We know that every situation is unique, especially when your loved one has dementia or other chronic illness. But to the extent that you’re able to, we recommend fully including them in the decision.
2. Honor Your Loved One’s Feelings
Of all the things you can do to ease the transition to assisted living, this might be the most difficult. We’re often taught to try to problem-solve when we should be listening.
Homes are full of stories and the richness, joys, and sorrows of life. Pets loved and mourned, kids losing teeth, Easter egg hunts, Thanksgiving dinners, game nights with friends and family, the smell of fresh laundry, windchimes, backyard cookouts, and so many other things. Thinking of a home you will never step foot in again is strange regardless of how happy your current circumstances are. Don’t expect a move into an assisted living campus to be emotionally uncomplicated. It’s important to honor your loved one’s feelings as they transition to assisted living.
Acknowledge the validity of your parent or loved one’s feelings when they’re sad, frustrated, or ambivalent. This can help create space for them to embrace the many positive things about moving to an assisted living community.
3. Attend to the Practical Things
Of all the things you can do to ease the transition to assisted living, this might be the most boring. But it’s a comparatively modest demand on your time and it’s valuable.
You’ve moved before. Little things always fall through the cracks – figuratively and sometimes literally – during and following moves. Doing the little, unremarkable but valuable things isn’t exciting, but if you’re lucky it can be beneficial in the long run.
- Filling out Change of Address forms
- Terminating accounts with recurring monthly payments for services they no longer use (such as utilities)
- Providing their updated address to family members and friends
- Hiring movers, if necessary
- Transferring or re-housing houseplants, appliances, and other items
Some days, the most valuable person is the one who sets aside 45 minutes to tend to the boring stuff.
Related: Move to Assisted Living Checklist
4. Attend to the Impractical Essentials of Creating a Home
“Impractical essentials” are things that nourish people emotionally rather than physically. But they matter just as much as having functioning appliances and light bulbs. Anything you can do that creates feelings of serenity, pride, cheerfulness, connection, amusement, curiosity, and other positive emotions will help your loved one feel grounded and connected and whole.
A few ways to achieve this include:
- Place familiar personal belongings conspicuously throughout the apartment.
- Make sure they’re stocked up on things that interest and satisfy them, such as books, crafts, musical instruments, creative hobbies, art, and music collections.
- Put up reminders of things they’re proud of, such as old sports photos, civic awards, and recognitions, or achievements in academics, arts, business, and so forth.
- Tack up a wall calendar with upcoming events, dates of recurring visits from loved ones, and special occasions.
On a final note: there’s a lot of room in the middle of the field between austerity and hoarding. A transition to an assisted living community usually involves downsizing. This requires difficult tradeoffs, so a little harmless clutter can be comforting and enjoyable.
5. Create Moments of Elevation Along the Way
In the wonderful book The Power of Moments, authors Chip and Dan Heath talk about how certain moments have a disproportionate impact on how we think about life experiences. When we think back on how positive or negative an experience was, we think about moments that surprised, delighted, or distressed us.
Applying that insight in creative ways can be super useful. As the authors put it, “Defining moments shape our lives, but we don’t have to wait for them to happen. We can be the authors of them.”
The first impression of a new living space can take weeks to wear off, so a little extra effort in the right place and time can have a hugely positive impact. And this is the most enjoyable of the five tips we’ve provided here. It amounts to applied humor, creativity, and kindness:
- Tucking away notes–your own, or a grandchild’s–somewhere you know your loved one will find them
- Playing the song your parents danced to at their wedding on move-in day
- Placing two tickets to an upcoming play or baseball game on the bedside table
- Surprising them with a piñata one month to the day before their birthday to give them something to look forward to
There is practically no end to the number of things you can do on moving day and in the one-month period following a move to an assisted living campus that will make Mom and Dad’s new home feel like… well, home.
An Enjoyable Transition to Assisted Living at Grace Pointe
We hope this list of tips for making your loved one’s transition to assisted living has been inspiring. It’s a big deal. May you be inspired for the journey and may you be the supportive aid your loved one needs as they prepare for this next life stage.