Moving can be stressful no matter your age. From deciding what to take and what to leave to packing and physically moving, this change is significant every time it happens in life. For seniors, however, moving to assisted living can be particularly difficult. Here’s a look at four problems to avoid when moving to assisted living and how you can help make the experience easier for everyone involved.
1. “Helping” Your Parent Clean Out Their Home
If the idea of organizing, sorting, and downsizing everything your parents have collected over the years sounds overwhelming, you’re not alone. For many seniors and their families, the most challenging part about moving to assisted living is clearing out the family home.
Two common problems to avoid when moving to assisted living that can arise during this process are:
- Not including your parents enough
- Including your parents too much
It’s important to try to include your parent in the decision-making process as much as possible without overwhelming them, which can be a delicate balance. Take over the process and go overboard purging items and you may hurt your parent’s feelings and harm your relationship. Ask them about every single knick-knack and you may never even get to packing.
So how do you get it right? The key is to start early — six months to a year before moving to assisted living if you can — and let your loved one be your guide. You’re not just going through their stuff. You’re going through the memories attached. Ask about their wishes and their fears. Are they worried about family conflicts? Do they want to be involved in dividing the contents of the house? Do they have certain bequests? What would they most like to see happen?
Be respectful of your parent’s possessions even if you don’t understand why they value the things they do, and prioritize compassion over your need to get things over with. If stress leads to bickering, hurt feelings, or anxiety, consider hiring a senior move manager take the reins of the entire downsizing and moving process.
2. Forgetting to Pack an Open-First Box
Another one of the most common reasons an assisted living move doesn’t happen smoothly is that packed boxes aren’t clearly labeled, making important things hard to find. As you’re helping your parent get packed, take the time to categorize items, keep like with like, and label all boxes with their contents and destination room or area in their new apartment.
Pack the things your loved one will want to have available on move-in day in boxes labeled “open first.” These items might include fresh bedding, soap, toilet paper, toothpaste and a toothbrush, a comb, nightclothes, a towel, plates and utensils, and a change of clothes. Pack other important items that you’ll keep with you during the move, such as the new lease or residence contract, keys, medications, legal documents, and a checkbook.
Along the way, create a detailed inventory to ensure that you know where to find what you’re looking for without having to dig through each box. Consider using a color-coded label system such as the Well-Planned Move: Moving Labels. The kit includes everything you need including a room color chart; room signs; color-coded moving labels with space for content descriptions, notes, and box numbers; attention labels for fragile and heavy boxes; open-first labels for essentials; and important document labels.
Using an organizing system is the most effective way to streamline the packing and unpacking process and alleviate the stress and hassle of moving.
3. Not Keeping Everyone on the Same Page
If you have siblings, caring for your parents should be a team effort. As the primary caregiver, you might be the team captain, whereas your brother takes on the role of pitcher and assists with tasks such as finances and transportation and your out-of-town sister takes on the role of spectator, offering emotional support over the phone.
Another one of the common problems to avoid when moving to assisted living is a lack of communication among the team. Just because a family member is not always directly involved in your parent’s care doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned about their well-being. If someone feels out of the loop or doesn’t know the timeline for the move, it can lead to conflict and feelings of anger and resentment.
If distance or time plays a part in your sibling’s ability to be involved in your parents’ move to assisted living, keep an open line of communication. Put key information in writing to make sure everyone has access to the facts.
4. Being Too Clingy After Your Parent Moves In
After you help your parent move in and get their assisted living apartment feeling like home, allow them to be independent. Although it’s important to visit and/or call regularly, avoid becoming too protective or feeling as though you need to be with them all the time during the transition.
Allow your parent the opportunity to go to the dining room alone and meet new people. Allow the care team the chance to find out what interests your parent has and slowly get them involved in activities or outings. Before you know it, your parent will want you to let them know in advance you are coming to visit because they just might have exciting plans on their calendar for that day.
Another way to get acclimated with a new community is to become a resident volunteer. Many assisted living communities have resident volunteers who take on roles at the community such as leading a craft group, managing the library, or sponsoring a club. When residents feel as though they have a purpose, it can improve their outlook and help immensely with the transition.
Making the move to an assisted living community is a big undertaking. For more tips on downsizing and selling a home, navigating move-in day, and helping your loved one adjust, download our Guide to Making the Move to Assisted Living.