Mom keeps saying she doesn’t want to leave her house. But you’ve seen the brochures, looked at some websites, and maybe even stopped by for a tour: You know that many assisted living communities have beautiful furnishings, modern amenities, and gorgeous grounds.
So you convince her that assisted living can feel like home — “Look at that spacious living room! Don’t those countertops look nice?” But what if you’re wrong? And what if she moves in and then hates it?
What Makes a Place a Home?
It’s true: Wall-to-wall carpeting and custom window blinds do not a home make. Pliny the Elder, aka Gaius Plinius Secundus, says, “Home is where the heart is.” For Robert Frost, “Home is the place that, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
Experts say home is the place where you can feel safe, an environment where you can be free to be yourself, an emotional haven where you can feel comfortable and at peace. Two of the most critical factors for whether a place feels like home are the other people there and the comforts of home.
The Other People
More than 12 million Americans over age 65 live alone, and nearly 70 percent of those older adults are women. Many seniors who live alone struggle with feelings of loneliness, isolation, and a lack of regular companionship. One study found 43 percent of surveyed older adults felt lonely, and another revealed that 60 percent reported feeling a lack of companionship and 41 percent reported feeling isolated.
Doesn’t sound very homey, right?
At the core of any person lies a need for purpose and belonging. Think about your mom or dad, who probably retired years ago and no longer has a family to care for. Their sense of purpose can diminish, and it’s easy for them to feel as if they aren’t needed anymore.
An assisted living community can provide a sense of belonging and give them social purpose. Having someone nearby who can identify with, empathize with, and even laugh at shared struggles helps older adults stay positive. Residents often gather for conversation and programs in the lively community areas — pubs, living rooms, libraries, beauty salons, private dining rooms, and sunrooms — and enjoy the companionship of neighbors, friends, and family.
And it’s not just the other residents who contribute to this sense of home. Staff members are trained to build a sense of community and empower residents to be themselves and will grow to know your loved one’s needs and wants — and even some of their quirks.
That’s what home is, right? A place where you don’t care what others think of you because you know most of the people around you either think the same or you know they will be accepting of your differences.
The Comforts of Home
Another critical aspect of feeling at home is the comforts of home: A place where you can safely sleep. A place where you can store keepsakes. A place where you can entertain guests. Sometimes it’s daily activities like cooking and participating in hobbies, such as reading, scrapbooking, or knitting, that make a place comfortable and homey.
Assisted living is designed to provide opportunities for residents to enjoy the life they choose. If your mom loves cooking, she can make breakfast, lunch, and dinner in her assisted living home. If your dad loves having his old golf buddies over to watch the Masters, he can invite them to watch in his spacious living room or in the community’s movie theater. If your great-aunt has a collection of Precious Moments dolls, she can display them around her home.
And that’s what home feels like, too: A place where you can be yourself, where you don’t have to hide who you are or pretend to be someone you’re not, where you can live in jeans and a T-shirt or get dressed to the nines for supper.
Who knows, assisted living might even start to feel more like home than that big empty house they were living in.
Tips for Making Assisted Living Feel Like Home
Not only do assisted living communities make the building feel like home, but they encourage residents to bring whatever furnishings will make them feel even more comfortable in their new home.
Here are a few simple tips to help a loved one feel more at peace with the idea of the move and ease into their new home.
1. Call It Home
Language and approach are important, so stop calling it an assisted living unit or an apartment.
There’s no better way to make assisted living feel like home than to call it home — remember, it is a mental transition, not just a physical one — so start referring to the new residence as home.
2. Make Social Connections
You don’t have to wait until move-in day to start making social connections with other residents. Take your loved one to visit frequently before the move to allow you both to get acquainted with the staff, meet other residents, and become familiar with the schedule. Stop by for lunch or participate in an activity. This will help your loved one feel knowledgeable and prepared for their new home.
3. Be Patient
Moving away from a familiar environment can seem daunting to your aging loved one. Empathize with them as they grieve the loss of their old home, and be patient as they adjust to the idea of their new home. These feelings of sadness your parent might be experiencing usually go away with a bit of time. The best thing you can do is show support as your loved one gets used to their new home.
Be patient and compassionate with yourself, too. Moving a loved one to assisted living doesn’t mean that you’ve failed to take care of them. It means you’re making a smart decision to get them the level of care they need. Assisted living really is a place where you can feel at home and be treated like family.
Have more questions about what assisted living is really like? Download our eBook to learn about the ways assisted living has changed over the years, what a typical day in assisted living looks like today, and the staff you’ll usually meet in assisted living facilities.