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How to Manage the Transition to Assisted Living

Life is full of transitions, some of them more difficult than others. When a loved one gets into their senior years, the change can be challenging for the entire family—especially when it comes to making care decisions.

Should you move them into your home or outfit their existing home so they can age in place? Do they have a chronic condition that requires around-the-clock care or can they live semi-independently? If the answer is the latter and your family can afford it, assisted living may be the best option.

There are more than 30,000 assisted living facilities in the U.S. that provide long-term and personal care services, like assistance with meals, bathing and dressing; help with taking medications; and social activities for seniors who live in these residences.

“Utilities, bills and cleaning can easily become overwhelming if they [seniors] do not have adequate resources and support,” says Lauren Zimmerman, CEO of AEC Living, which develops senior living, skilled nursing, and assisted living communities in the San Francisco Bay area. “Plan out the cost of housing upgrades in consideration of their particular life stage to ensure that they are able to live in their house safely if a caregiver is not around.”

Seniors living together or in assisted living situations can mitigate these costs, Zimmerman says.

“For older seniors, assisted living may be the best choice, so loved ones can have meals and medication management taken care of while they enjoy the social relationships with peers,” she says.

If your family is considering assisted living for your loved one, here are some ways to prepare for that change and manage the transition.

Planning the Transition

Before your family decides on assisted living, have a conversation with your loved one. They may have already set aside money in retirement or have long-term care insurance, and they already may have decided that assisted living is the best choice if they want to maintain their independence and don’t have significant medical needs.

“Relocating from home into an assisted living community provides more success for adaption and inclusion socially if the move is done before the senior becomes too disabled from memory impairment or physical disability,” says Lisa Laney, a board member for the Aging Life Care Association. “Moving before limitations become significant allows more full participation in the highly engaging and quality activities where people are able to meet and develop true friendships.”

Your family should start by researching assisted living facilities in the area. Check out your state’s health department website to find out the facility’s quality ratings, and then schedule a tour. During the tour, ask questions about:

  • the hiring process for staff and the credentials required

  • the ratio of staff to patients

  • accommodations provided for residents

  • available social activities

  • how the staff communicates with family caregivers

Once you’ve chosen a facility that’s a good match, the next step is to prepare for the move.

What to Consider During the Move

It’s important to include your loved one in every step of the process, as the move to assisted living will have the greatest impact on them.

Decide what to bring. First, determine what they need to bring and what can comfortably fit in the room. If you’ve already toured the facility, you probably have a good idea of the space available in each room. You also can talk to the facility’s move-in coordinator or administrator about the best items to bring and whether it provides any furnishings, like a bed or nightstands. If they don’t, work with your loved one to shop for furnishings they like.

Make downsizing easier. If they’re moving from a large home, your loved one will also have to decide which items to bring and which to leave behind. Some things may have to be placed in storage or sold, but talk to them about what they feel comfortable with. Selling possessions they’ve had for a long time may add unneeded stress to the move, so it might be best to delay this decision.

Identify must-have items. Talk to your loved one about what must-have items they’d like to bring with them. They may have pictures, a radio, favorite clothing or other treasured items that will help their new residence feel more like home. Identify what these things are and pack them so they have them right away when they move in.

Coordinate moving day. Decide how to manage the move. You may need to hire movers or rely on family and friends to transport items. Regardless of who helps with the move, it’s important that your loved one has familiar faces around to set up their new home—unless they’ve communicated that they prefer otherwise. Talk to them about how they’d like their room or apartment arranged, and make sure all those treasured, must-have items are placed throughout their new home according to their preferences.

What to Consider After the Move

Everyone handles moving differently, and for your loved one, the transition can either be seamless or fraught with stress as they adapt to their new surroundings.

During this time, it’s critical that you listen to your loved one’s concerns and do your best to address them. This may mean talking to assisted living staff about ways to get your loved one more engaged in the community. Many, if not all, assisted living facilities offer social programs, so it may help to go through the calendar or brochure with them and highlight some activities that might be of interest.

Families also should consider hiring a care manager who understands your family’s desires and can provide consistency for your loved one and advocate for their care needs. Care managers can handle a range of tasks, including visiting your loved one once a week if your family lives out of town, taking them out, shopping for any necessities, making referrals for other services and assisting with communication between you and assisted living staff.

Family support is important during this time, too. Try to visit at least once a week during the transition if you can, and encourage close relatives and friends to make periodic visits if your loved one has said this is OK, so they are surrounded by familiar faces during this transition. Also, pay attention to changes in your loved one’s mood. If they’re feeling overly anxious or sad several weeks after the move, talk to the staff about what can be done to help or whether it may be a sign that they should be evaluated by a doctor.

And just as your loved one will go through an emotional transition, so will you. Not directly caring for an aging family member sometimes comes with guilt, but it’s important to understand that your family has made the best decision for their long-term care.

Just remember that you aren’t alone. Many families will go through a similar transition—as 27 million Americans will need long-term care by the year 2050, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But by choosing the right assisted living facility, carefully planning the move with your loved one’s preferences in mind and being there to offer physical and emotional support throughout the moving process, you can make this transition much less stressful.

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