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Tips For Moving Parents Into Assisted Living (Easing The Transition To An ALF)

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Transitioning to a smaller home is not easy but add the issue of moving into an assisted living facility (ALF) and you have a difficult task ahead of you.  It doesn’t matter if you are the senior adult or if you are the caregiver – it’s going to be hard.  But there are ways to make the move easier – for everyone.

My 9 tips for moving parents into assisted living include:

  1. Communicate with your parents early and often about living in an ALF
  2. Visit several ALF communities – attend events and possibly spend a night or two.
  3. Give your parents time to consider the option.
  4. Listen to your parents’ concerns and fears.
  5. Talk to others who have made the move.
  6. Schedule regular visits after they’ve moved.
  7. Personalize their ALF apartment as much as possible.
  8. Talk to the ALF staff about specific needs your parents may have.
  9. Know that it’s normal to second guess yourself about this decision.

I have two very healthy elderly neighbors who are both looking to move into an ALF (Assisted Living Facility) and they are doing an amazing job of it.  They are visiting each of the ALF communities in the area, going to events and even spending a night at some of them.

This is a great way to make the move.  Slowly and calculated with as much information as possible before making the big decision.

Also, they are doing this while they are quite healthy so the decision will not be rushed or forced.  Of course – I have seen several older adults in my life fight this move until the very end until they finally had no choice.

That is NOT the way you want to do it – if you can help it.  So, here is my checklist of 9 tips to help you.

How To Help Elderly Parents Adjust To Assisted Living

So, here are more details on the top 9 tips I mentioned above on how to move your parents into an ALF community.

  1. Talk about assisted living communities with your parents as much as possible and as early as possible.  My older sister has 2 daughters.  Whenever my sister has a “senior moment” or some other event that they deem to be part of aging, they tell her that it just may be time to move to “shady pines” – their fictional name for an ALF.  It’s their funny way of bringing up the idea over and over again.You know your parents – bring up the concept as much as possible so that it’s not a shock if and when the time comes that an ALF would be the best place for them.
  2. Visit several ALF facilities.  Do what my elderly neighbors are doing.  Take some time to go visit some ALF’s, maybe even volunteer there.  Many of them host events that they could attend and some will allow you to spend a night or two so that you can get a “feel” for what the community is like.  Visit more than just once or twice – do it as often as is feasible.
  3. Don’t choke the idea down your parents’ throats.  Give them time to think it over – mull over the pros and cons.  Not many people like being told what to do and this is usually very true with older adults.
  4. Listen to your parents’ concerns.  Don’t brush away their fears as if they don’t matter.  Acknowledge them and listen to what they have to say.  Use as much reasoning and logic as you can with them but also know that this is an emotional event.  Logic does not always work when there’s emotion involved.
  5. Gather your tribe.  If you happen to know someone (even if you don’t know them well) who has moved into an ALF – scheduling a meal with them and your parents may be very helpful.  So, ask your friends, colleagues and anyone you know if they know someone who is living in an ALF who would be willing to give you (and your parents) the scoop on how it is for them.  (You may want to talk to them first before introducing them to your parents).
  6. Begin the decluttering process as soon as possible.  Even if your parents don’t move to an ALF or downsize to a smaller home – it’s usually always a good idea to begin the process of decluttering.  This makes the home safer to live in, easier to manage for the homeowner(s) and much easier to deal with when the time comes that they are forced to move or they pass away.  I personally have gone through this process 3 times in my life and I can honestly tell you that cleaning out a home after someone has passed away can be horrific.  You are dealing with the emotional loss and the overwhelming job of getting rid of their stuff.  It’s heartbreaking and unnecessary.
  7. Schedule regular visits and outings.  When Robin’s father moved into an ALF (after her mother passed away) she made it a point to visit him every Friday.  That was their day to spend together – going to lunch, attending a matinee movie or show, going to the park – whatever.  If she could sneak in more visits after her work and during the weekends every now and then, she did – but her father knew that he would see her every single week.
  8. Bring as much of your parents’ personal belongings as you can to their apartment in the ALF.  Your father’s favorite chair, your mother’s favorite lamp, etc.  Anything that you can do to make it feel as much as “home” as possible.  Photos are a great way to do this.
  9. Talk to the staff at the ALF about schedules.  One of the most difficult aspects of moving into an ALF is having to adhere to a schedule.  If your parents are used to sitting outside on their porch until 10:00 pm with a glass of wine then being told that they have to be in their apartments by 8:00 pm might not go over too well.  Find out how much flexibility the ALF has with their schedules.  Oftentimes – the issue is just that the staff are not used to any changes and try to get all the residents to adhere to the same schedule.
  10. You may second guess yourself and you may feel guilty.  If you had to fight to get your parents into an ALF you may find yourself feeling guilty and wondering if you did the right thing – especially if they complain about it all the time.  This is inevitable.  It’s normal.  Do not beat yourself up.  Remind yourself (keep a physical list if you have to) of all the reasons why an ALF was the smart and safe thing to do.

These 9 tips should give you the tools you need to prepare you and your parents for assisted living.

What Should I Bring To Assisted Living?

Okay, now it’s time for the actual move and most (if not all) ALF organizations will provide you with a list of things that you should / can bring to your new home.

Basically, your aging parent is moving to a new home and probably downsizing.  So, anything that you would normally bring to a new home is what you would be taking to that new apartment in the ALF.

But, just to help you along,  here’s a general checklist for you.

  • Furniture – you want to make your new apartment in the ALF as comfortable as possible so I would encourage you to bring your parent’s bed, favorite chair and/or loveseat, their TV, table, etc.  Of course, the furniture has to fit in the space that you are moving into.
  • Personal Items – besides furniture, you want to personalize the apartment as much as possible.  And that means favorite photos, paintings, books and knick knacks.  Don’t forget holiday items like Christmas ornaments, etc.
  • Your pet – yes, there are many ALF’s that allow you to bring your pet.  If your parent has a dog, cat, bird, etc. I would strongly suggest that you look for ALF’s that allow pets.  The emotional upset of moving from their home AND losing a loving companion can be devastating for many seniors.  Read more about how to help your elderly parents keep their pets.

How Do You Move A Parent With Dementia To Assisted Living?

Generally, if your senior parent suffers from any form of dementia – it may be difficult for them to move to (or continue living in)just any ALF setting.  It does depend greatly on what the ALF provides as far as care and how impeded your parent is by their dementia.

Here are my tips on how to help you move your parent (who suffers from dementia) to an ALF.

  1. I would recommend to search for one that specializes in some type of memory care – especially one that has a locked unit.  As an Occupational Therapist, I worked in several ALF facilities that did not have locked units and it was a daily occurrence to run out the doors to retrieve a resident with dementia who had wandered away.  It’s simply safer because sadly, dementia does not generally get better.
  2. If your parent is able to hire and pay for a private aide to help them while they live in an ALF – that may be a solution is well.
  3. Many patients with dementia have good and bad times during the day and night.  Some have what is called Sundowners Syndrome where their confusion and agitation gets worse near the end of the day.  If this is your case try to schedule the actual move to the ALF during their “good times” to help avoid more problems than necessary.
  4. Make sure your elderly parent has their comfort items with them at all times during the move.  It could be a blanket, a doll or whatever item they have gravitated towards.
  5. Make sure the staff at the ALF is aware of your parents’ specific moods, ups and downs, etc.  If they can be prepared for what is coming in, they will be better able to handle problems as they arise.  Especially the first few days.

What If Your Elderly Parent Refuses Assisted Living?

It takes time for any of us to accept changes in our lives and it’s even harder when you get older, so first and foremost be patient.

As I said earlier in this article – it’s important to talk to your parents about moving for months or years beforehand.

On the surface, when an elderly parent declines to move, it can seem like they are just being old and stubborn. Some recent studies, however, show that a senior’s unwillingness to relocate often has less to do with being crotchety. It is more about how they think they are being viewed by others.

So, here are some tips that may help you and your aging parent(s).

  • Consider Alternative Housing Options – Assisted living facilities may not be the only option for your aging parents.  Along with your parents – you may want to look into Granny Pods, Active Adult Communities, Senior Villages, Senior Co-Housing and Residential Care Homes.  You can read more about each one of these options in our article on Housing Options For Seniors 55 And Older.
  • Stay Calm And Don’t Force Things – Stubborn though they may be, your elderly parents are adults. This means they have the right to make their own decisions about relocating even if you don’t agree with them.
  • Treat Them Like The Adults They Are – Often, it isn’t what you say, but how you say it. When you are talking to your elderly parents about moving, don’t be condescending. Be empathetic to their situation (how would YOU feel if you felt you were being forced to move?) and listen to their concerns. Give them time to mull everything over.
  • Don’t Make Them Feel Like They Have To Move Because They Are Old – De-emphasize the reasons for moving due to their age. Instead, emphasize the sense of community and the activities that will be there for them.
  • Allow Your Parent To Have a Sense Of Control – Everyone likes to be in control of their affairs but unfortunately, as we all grow older we oftentimes begin losing control of our physical and cognitive health. Give your parents the opportunity to voice their concerns and make decisions. Doesn’t mean you will like what they decide – but you can try to work on a compromise.
  • Give Your Senior Parents Time To Process The Need To Move – Again, by mentioning the concept of moving to an ALF for months or years in advance – it plants the seed and idea and gives your parent(s) time to think about it. Of course, as I’ve said before it really helps if they have a friend or relative who has already made the move.
  • Research Some Places That They Might Like – And of course, take them to these places not just for a visit but to have a meal there, to attend an event or two or maybe even to volunteer. It’s much more comfortable going somewhere they’re already familiar with.
  • Emphasize The Consequences If They Don’t Move – Without being argumentative or emotional – simply begin laying out the consequences of not moving to an ALF. This works best after an event. For example, if your parent lives alone and falls, if they have been forgetting to take their medication, if they are lonely the majority of the time, etc.
  • Explain How Much Their Move Will Help You (Their Loving Child) – It never hurts to talk about how their living situation is affecting you. My sister lived about 3 blocks away from our mother and she was called upon almost daily by my mother to come over for some help. It wasn’t very much (my mother was extremely independent until about 2 days before she died) but it was enough that life became difficult for my sister.
  • Accept That You Might Not Convince Them To Move – No matter what you do, you may not be able to convince your parents to make the move. And that is just how it will have to be. But, the compromise should then be that other arrangements will have to be made. Hiring someone to come in to clean, setting up cameras throughout the home to monitor your parents, purchasing medical alert devices, modifying the home they live in to make it as safe as possible, etc.

Here’s another article with a bit more information for you on what to do when your elderly parent refuses to move.

Assisted living facilities can be wonderful places to live.  Choosing the right one for your needs is the key to a happy and healthy stay.

The Pros And Cons Of Assisted Living Facilities

Pros

  • Still live independently – it’s nice to have your very own apartment even though you may need a little help every day.  Assisted living gives you that.
  • In house meals – most (if not all) assisted living facilities provide 2 meals a day in the dining room and some will even bring the meal to your room.  Depending on the accommodations, it can be a very nice experience to go to the dining room and sit with others to enjoy a meal prepared for you.
  • In house activities – again, most (if not all) assisted living have a recreational therapist who provides a series of activities in house and some even provide outside events such as concerts and theater.
  • You can still drive – some assisted living allow you to keep your car in the parking lot.  So if you are still capable of being safe while driving and want to keep your car, then you can certainly do that.

Cons

  • Cost prohibitive – the very first con that I must mention is the cost.  This does vary depending on where you live but generally, the cost averages about $4000.00 per month.  You can get an idea of the cost in your area using the calculator at Genworth.com
  • Living under policies and rules – very much like an HOA in the 55+ communities, there will be rules and policies that you will have to live under and for some seniors, that can be difficult.
  • Will be living within close proximity of others – I have known a few elderly (my mother for one!) who was very much a “loner” and really did not want to engage with other humans, at all.  For her, living in an assisted living (which we wanted her to do) was akin to going to prison (yes, she said that).  So, if you or your senior loved one is the type of person that does not want to live amongst other humans, this type of living arrangement may become very difficult for them.
  • Pets may be a problem – not all assisted living facilities allow pets so if you own a pet, choosing the right facility that will allow you to keep it or them is very important.  Here is a short list of some facilities that do accept pets.

I hope that this information helps you with your aging parent.  I know it’s not an easy time for either of you but please know that it’s only temporary – things will get easier and better.


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