For many, the decision to move into senior living isn’t an easy one. It’s normal for seniors to feel some reluctance about the perceived loss of independence and anxiety about leaving behind the beloved familiarity of a longtime home. However, there is a great deal that family members can do to help ease a loved one’s transition to a senior living community.
6 tips for how to help prepare your loved one for the move:
1. Visit their new community together.
Take your loved one to visit the new community before move-in day. Seeing what their new environment will look like ahead of time will help soothe some of the anxiety that many people experience in anticipation of a significant upcoming life change such as a move. Walk the route between their new apartment and key community areas such as the dining room, health center, and activity room. Feeling like they know their way around will give your loved one an extra boost of confidence in their first few days at the new community.
2. Walk them through the downsizing process.
Moving to an assisted living or independent living community will likely mean that your loved one will be moving into a smaller space. That means it’s time to downsize. After a lifetime of collecting possessions with dear memories attached to them, downsizing can be a highly emotional process. Make the process easier on your loved one by starting early and going slow, working through the house one room at a time, and setting strict parameters around how much stuff they can bring. Framing decisions as yes or no questions can also help expedite the process by avoiding “maybes” that turn into drawn-out discussions.
3. Decorate with personal possessions.
Home is where the heart is, that’s true. But “the heart” is as much located in a person’s possessions as it is in the actual structure of a house. Make sure that all your loved one’s favorite possessions make the move with them. If possible, even set them up ahead of time. Filling the new space with your loved one’s most beloved possessions—furniture and decorations if they’re moving into an independent living apartment, picture frames and bedding if it’s an assisted living accommodation—will make a new situation feel familiar more quickly.
4. Stock up on favorite snacks.
If your loved one’s new accommodations contain a refrigerator or kitchen space, make sure it is well stocked with some of their favorite drinks and snacks. It may seem like a small thing, but being able to consume the same foods will help reassure them that all of their daily routines don’t have to change just because they’ve experienced a change of environment.
5. Form connections with staff.
Reach out to the staff at the new community before your loved one moves in. Making your loved one’s preferences, habits, and quirks known to the staff will help them accommodate your loved one’s needs from day one. Understanding the best ways to communicate and connect with your loved one can help them build rapport more quickly so that your loved one feels welcomed and comfortable right away.
6. Find ways to get involved.
Give the staff a rundown of some of your loved one’s favorite past times and hobbies. If they’re aware of your loved one’s interests, they can go out their way to connect your loved one with the right activities. Getting involved in groups and activities early on will help your loved one feel like a true member of the community, and can also help boost their sense of agency and independence. Hobbies are a great source of joy at any age, but the social interactions that come from participating in community activities are critical to a senior’s emotional wellbeing.
7. Maintain your own relationship.
Establish new routines within your own relationship with your loved one. Knowing they can count on you to call every other morning or visit every Saturday will introduce a welcome measure of consistency and predictability into their life that will help them feel anchored rather than lost at sea in their new environment. It’s important for your loved one to be able to trust that the important relationships in their life will remain stable even though their environment has changed.