There’s no doubt about it — making the move to assisted living is hard. Not only is it a stressful process, from putting the house on the market to coordinating movers, but it is also an emotional transition, especially when you’ve collected decades of memories and belongings.
“Making the move to assisted living can feel like much more than simply moving,” says Sondra Jones, Chief Marketing Officer of The Arbors. “It can feel like the end of an era.”
Your mom might be feeling sadness and grief. You might be overwhelmed with guilt and anxiety. Your out-of-town brother might be struggling with frustration and resentment.
“Understanding these feelings and using strategies to navigate them may not change how you feel, but it can help the process go more smoothly so you and your loved one can focus on the next chapter,” Jones reassures.
From downsizing and selling the family home to navigating move-in day and transitioning to care, here are six tips to help your parent — and you — make the move to assisted living easier.
1. Move First, Downsize Later
Reducing down a lifetime’s worth of belongings to move from a large home to a smaller one can be a difficult and emotional task. Maybe your mom is sad about letting go of possessions with sentimental value. Or perhaps your dad is stressed about what to do with the things that won’t be moving with him.
To reduce the anxiety that can come with parting with belongings that your loved one has had for years, Jones offers a tip that might seem counterintuitive: Move first, downsize later.
“It’s too much to sit there and watch people go through your stuff,” Jones says. “Have Mom move in first. Take what Mom wants, the most important things, and get Mom settled with everything she wants and needs there so she feels safe. Then Mom can go back home and downsize and get ready to sell the house. She’s in control. She’s empowered.”
2. Delay Selling the Home
Another way to reduce what experts call “transfer trauma” or “transitional trauma” is to hold off on selling the family home. “Moving is hard enough without asking your parent to live in a house that a realtor is showing to prospective buyers,” says Joanne Housianitis, Director of Outreach for The Arbors at Dracut and The Arbors at Stoneham. If your parent has the financial resources, make the move to assisted living first and sell later.
However, for many older adults, their house is their largest asset, and the proceeds from its sale can be used to finance the move to their next home. If you do have to sell the home to make the move to assisted living, consider working with a Seniors Real Estate Specialist. Not only are they experts when it comes using reverse mortgages, 401(k) accounts, and IRAs for real estate transactions, but they also have experience managing the emotional challenges of selling a long-held family home.
Although selling the family home can be an emotional time, it can also be the opening of a new, exciting chapter. “Remind your parents that even though they won’t be living in their house anymore, they will still have all the special memories they created there,” says Crystal DaSilva, Executive Director of The Arbors at Chicopee.
Adds Karen Walters-Zucco, Executive Director of The Arbors at Amherst: “Plus, now there’s no more worrying about the furnace breaking, cleaning the gutters, or shoveling snow. Assisted living takes care of all of your parent’s residential responsibilities so they can spend time on things they truly enjoy.”
3. Pack for Their New Home & Needs
Before moving day, get a floor plan or the dimensions of the assisted living apartment so you’ll know how much space you will have to work with. Ask your parent which personal items, such as furniture, keepsakes, and photographs, they want to move with them.
“Bring their favorite recliner, their favorite curtains, their collection of birdhouses — but don’t overpack,” Jones says. “Sometimes less is more.”
Be realistic about how much space there will be and what furniture will work in it. Consider leaving large pieces of furniture at home. Instead, pack smaller prized possessions to make the apartment as homey as possible.
Not sure what is too much? “Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” says Bianca Syriac, Marketing Director at The Ivy at Ellington. “We are here to guide you throughout the entire move-in process.”
4. Make Move-in Day Special, Not a Chore
On move-in day, you can expect to be warmly greeted and welcomed by staff who will be available to answer questions, lend support, and assist your loved one in settling into their new home.
Some parents will want to be in the middle of it, directing the action from their easy chair. For others, especially those with memory loss, moving can be traumatic. To avoid overwhelming your loved one — and to make move-in day special — Jones suggests leaving the physical side of moving to friends, family, and the professionals.
“Plan to have a sibling or a friend take Mom out to lunch or go shopping for a couple of hours while the movers bring over the furniture and boxes, and other family and friends help arrange and organize the apartment,” Jones says. “Time it so when Mom comes back, her apartment is all ready to go.”
Consider having a small housewarming celebration. Stock the fridge with your loved one’s favorite snacks and drinks, put their favorite music on in the background, and spend some time relaxing, sharing stories, and providing comfort in their new home.
5. Let the Staff Do What They Do Best
As a family caregiver, you play a vital role in your parent’s transition to assisted living. No one knows their personal preferences better than you. “The more information you share with the staff, the better we can integrate a care plan into your loved one’s typical routines and daily schedule,” Syriac says. “This helps keep the focus on the fun — socializing and the assisted living experience.”
So, no need to become too protective or feel as though you need to be with them all the time during the transition. Someone from maintenance will come help them hang pictures. Housekeeping will stop by to discuss when they’d prefer someone to clean and do laundry. The Activities Director will drop off an activities calendar and invite them to attend a fitness class, tea party, or seminar.
“The goal of every member of our staff is to assure your parent’s happiness,” Jones says. “Once they move in, we do escorts to and from activities and the dining room, especially to bring them to the dining room. It’s not assigned seating, but residents think it’s is. It’s like high school: Who am I going to eat with? We always want the staff to bring them down and sit them with someone they might get along with — until they find their way or they tell us to go away.”
6. Allow Them to Be Independent
Visiting often during the first days after the move is important and does help make sure your loved one doesn’t feel abandoned. But refrain from taking this too far, as excessive hand-holding could prevent your parent from successfully adapting to their new home.
“Getting settled is important, but creating a new lifestyle is the best part,” Syriac says.
Encourage your parent to get involved within the community. Many assisted living communities have resident volunteers that take on roles at the community such as leading a craft group, managing the library or sponsoring a club. When your mom or dad feel as though they have a purpose, it can improve their outlook and help immensely with the transition.
“Change can be scary,” DaSilva says. “Adjusting to the new surroundings may take days, weeks, or months. Luckily, The Arbors has experienced, caring staff that will help guide and comfort your loved one as they go from being the new kid on the block to being an integral part of the community.”
Each one of these six tips can make a huge difference in how your loved one adjusts to their new living environment. For more advice on how to make downsizing easier, tips on selling a home, and how to plan a stress-free moving day, download our Guide to Making the Move to Assisted Living.