Moving into a senior living community can be a stressful experience for the new resident and their family. Once accustomed to their new environment, most seniors are happy they made the move—it’s getting to that point that’s the challenge. These tips can help make the transition as simple and stress-free as possible.
1. Find the Perfect Senior Living Community
Many facility choices exist for every type of assisted living or independent living environment. Once you’ve narrowed your options to a few you like, take tours of the centers, talk to residents, and see if the facility has the features your loved one needs.
Cheryl Lafferty Eckl is an expert in senior care and hospice issues, a featured contributor to Psychology Today, and the author of three books inspired by her experiences in the field. She outlines four major categories to consider when assessing the quality of a care facility:
- Safety: Eckl suggests you ensure the rooms are “fully safety checked so there are no trip areas—no difficult transitions between linoleum and carpet—because falling is probably the biggest problem for people suffering with increased frailty. [Ask the facility’s staff] how they mitigate falling.”
- Supervising Staff: Understand who is supervising your family member—the supervising doctor, the nursing assistant in charge—to better assess the quality of care.
- Affordability: Gauge your ability to afford the senior living facility, and assess the value of the return on your investment.
- Involvement: Involve the prospective resident in the decision making. “Make sure they understand all of the options, especially if there are a couple of places to choose from. The bottom line of success is to get the buy-in of the person that is going to be living there,” says Eckl.
Check out A Place for Mom – Senior Living Planner & Guide for comparisons of senior care options and for tips on finding the perfect living situation for your loved one.
2. Handling Difficult Conversations
A Place for Mom offers advice for approaching difficult conversations with your loved one:
First and foremost, “acknowledge and understand [your loved one’s] concerns and fears.” Needing help and losing independence is a traumatic transition, so help your loved one feel in control. They should have time to express their wishes and goals for their future living environment.
At the same time, be clear with them about your budget so they are informed as they make decisions. Be supportive and create a plan as a family.
Eckl suggests beginning the conversation before you think you need it. “This is really hard because nobody ever wants to think about themselves or their parents getting to the point where they can no longer care for themselves—but avoiding the conversation is one of the things you cannot do. If someone falls, and they are going to need help from then on, you cannot really anticipate that.”
3. Plan a Budget
Use the budget calculator at A Place for Mom to estimate the cost of senior care in your state.
Once you understand the costs, begin creating a budget. Many families use a combination of income, savings, veteran’s benefits, long-term care insurance, home equity, Medicaid, and a reverse mortgage to cover the costs. In some cases, families sell a life insurance policy to fund senior care.
4. Plan for the Move
Once a facility has been chosen, it’s time to prepare for the move. It is critical to understand the limitations of the new space. Can your loved one take everything they own? Is there only enough space for a few of their favorite things?
If your loved one is unwilling to throw items away, but lacks the space for them in the senior living facility, self storage is a helpful option.
5. Organize Belongings
“Seniors can be emotionally invested in the home they’re leaving,” says Jeff Anderson at A Place for Mom. This makes organizing and moving more difficult. Allow extra time for loved ones to mentally and emotionally prepare. Plan ahead, measure the new space to help your loved one understand the parameters of what can be kept, and get the entire family involved in the process.
6. Consolidate Possessions for the Move
Anderson says to start “categorizing objects to make the process easier.” Sort through the items that will be moved, nostalgic items for family members, items to throw away, and items to be sold or donated. Listen to your loved one: many items will have a memory associated with them, so be open to keeping something that has little practical value.
Eckl says, “Things are important to the parent that they feel they need to maintain their sense of self and their personal dignity. Some people are going to want to stay physically active, and some people may still want to know if they can do their watercolors.” Make sure to keep items that help your loved one maintain their sense of self.
7. Prepare Belongings for Self Storage
To prepare items for storage, first separate all your loved one’s belonging into three categories: things to move to the senior living facility, things to store, and things to donate or throw away.
As you pack items for storage, be sure to label everything carefully so you can easily find anything your loved one might need at a future time.
Sarah Stevenson at A Place for Mom recommends “enlisting trusted friends and family to help your loved one clear their clutter.” Downsizing can be emotional, so start this process early. Eckl suggests “really [involving] the parent in the decisions.” Go room-by-room or drawer-by-drawer as you sort through items as a family.
Temporary self storage is a great option when enough immediate time isn’t available to go through a loved one’s belongings.
9. Settling Into Senior Care
Eckl suggests doing “everything you can possibly do to make the new living arrangement feel like home.” Pictures, home décor, and other items should be set up so that your loved one’s new space feels immediately familiar.
Another way to make the transition smoother is taking time to know the facility manager. This way, you’ll quickly be able to find assistance if there is a maintenance issue or other problem with your loved one’s living space. For more advice on establishing a familiar environment and working with the senior care staff, check out the A Place for Mom article by Jeannette Franks, PhD.
We hope you found this article on moving a loved one into assisted living helpful. If you have any additional tips, please join the conversation and comment below.