This is a special guest post from contributor Krisca Te.
When the time comes to move a loved one to an assisted living facility (ALF), it can be an emotional period for everyone involved. While it’s undoubtedly the right thing to do when they are no longer capable of living on their own, it is inevitable that some negative feelings will surface.
On your own end, there may be feelings of guilt that you aren’t taking your parent or grandparent in yourself, while for them it means the beginning of the end of their independent lifestyle and will require some pretty big adjustments.
I experienced this firsthand when the time came to move my grandma to an ALF. She had always been very active and independent; she loved playing golf on the weekends, meeting up with friends for bridge games and hosting elaborate dinner parties.
However, as she got older, it gradually became more and more difficult for her to climb up and down the stairs and get around the rather large home where she lived alone. On one occasion she suffered a fall and injured her ankle; luckily it wasn’t too serious, but it did lead us to reevaluate her situation.
When we brought it up with her, she was naturally very distraught at the thought of leaving her home and insisted that she would never move to an ALF where as she put it “everyone was just waiting to die.”
Eventually we suggested that she come along and have a look at some of the places in our area, just to get a feel for what they were like.
Once she saw the facilities, met some of the residents there and talked to the staff, she actually began to warm up to the idea of moving to a smaller place where she would have more help, and also more opportunities for socializing.
She has since moved to an assisted living facility nearby and although it certainly hasn’t been an easy process for her, she has managed to readjust and is still enjoying most of the same activities she did when she lived in her own home.
I’ve learned that although you can’t change your loved one’s circumstances, there are things you can do to help them through the transition. The most important thing you can do is to simply be there for them and give them your support when they need it.
The following are some of the things that helped in our situation, and hopefully they will be helpful to others as well.
1. Deal with any feelings of guilt first. If you’re feeling guilty about placing your loved one into assisted living, it’s important that you are able to work through those feelings before you move forward as these feelings could negatively influence your loved one’s transition period.
Keep in mind the reasons why you initially decided that moving your parent or grandparent to an ALF was the right move and remember that it will benefit their health and well-being.
2. Talk through any concerns well in advance. If your loved one has any concerns about the move or about what will happen to their current home or belongings once they move, it is important to go over these concerns long before you being any other preparations. Find out what they are worried about and then work towards coming up with solutions that will put their mind at ease.
3. Visit the ALF with them a few times before the move takes place. Most of us are more afraid of what we don’t know than what we do, so taking your relative to visit the facility and acquaint themselves with the grounds, staff and amenities can do a lot to ease their worries and help them adjust more quickly.
Go to a few meals, talk to other residents and familiarize yourselves with the grounds and layout of the facility so that your loved one knows what to expect.
4. Keep in touch as much as possible. During the first few months or even year of your loved one’s transition into assisted living, they will likely be feeling vulnerable and insecure in their new surroundings. Knowing that they can count on your support can go a long way in helping them to adjust. Make regular visits and when you can’t come in person, be sure to phone them or send a little note so that they know they haven’t been forgotten.
5. Help them make new contacts and get involved with activities. Elderly people can often become shy when placed in a new environment and may turn down suggestions of activities or social gatherings. However, getting involved with others in their community and making new contacts is an important part of the adjustment process.
If they seem reluctant to participate, try accompanying them to some of the planned activities and gatherings so they don’t feel too intimidated. There is bound to be some activity your loved one is interested in, whether it’s art, book clubs or music lessons.
6. Don’t coddle. Showing support is important, but make sure you give your parent or grandparent the space to be independent as well.
In the first few days, for example, you may want to visit every day to make sure they know you haven’t abandoned them, but as time goes on, it’s better to space the visits out a bit more so that your loved one doesn’t become too dependent on you.
7. Set up their new living space with familiar furnishings and personal effects. Most elderly people are quite attached to their belongings, and parting with them can be very stressful. Obviously, they will be moving to a smaller environment, so not everything can be moved with them, but incorporating as many of their favorite objects like armchairs, beloved knickknacks and photographs can give the new place a familiar feel.
8. Form good relationships with the staff. You may not always get straight answers from your loved one about how they are doing and whether or not they are adjusting well into their new home, so forming good relationships with the staff can help you stay better informed of their progress and any issues there may be.
Krisca Te works with Open Colleges, Australia's leading provider of TAFE courses equivalent and aged care training. When not working, you can find her on Google+ or spends the day with her baby boy.