Adjusting to life in a senior living community involves big changes. Your loved one may have mixed feelings about the move or be reluctant to make such a big change like leaving behind a home with many memories or sometimes the feeling of a loss of freedom. Although the transition can be difficult, the way you handle it can have a big impact on how easy (or how difficult) it is on your loved one. Take a look at these tips to make your loved one’s transition as smooth as possible through the following stages.
Set Firm Dates
Before your loved one moves into a senior living community, everyone involved needs to know what to expect. Create a calendar to share with your loved one and others involved in the move. This will help take some of the uncertainty away for your loved one. Pick dates for:
- Downsizing and packing
- Charity pick-ups, garage or estate sales, trash pick-ups
- Booking a moving truck or asking friends and family to help
- Moving day
- Unpacking boxes and setting up the new home
Packing can be stressful no matter how you look at it. Take it slowly (and start early if that’s what it takes) to make things easier on your loved one. Remember that their participation can help them feel in control, which can minimize anxiety and nervousness about the big move. But also keep in mind that this is a big job, and too much at once can be overwhelming. Try to keep packing, sorting and organizing confined to less than a couple of hours per day and make it a sociable experience! If your loved one wants to stop and reminisce, join in. You can spare 15 minutes to connect and create a smoother transition.
If the person who’s moving has a lot of things (furniture, keepsakes, and other things that can’t come along), there’s a big decision on the horizon. They will have to decide whether to put everything in storage, hold a yard sale, or divide items between family members. This should ultimately be your loved one’s decision. Think about how you would feel if someone suddenly took the reins and dictated what was going to happen to your stuff.
Many people don’t want to let go of things that feel important. If it is absolutely necessary, you can try:
- Talking to an antique dealer to find out how much items are worth. Sometimes a dollar figure can make a big difference in a person’s decision-making process.
- Hiring a professional organizer. If you are too close to the situation and your help becomes frustrating for your loved one, it might be best to bring in an impartial third party who is used to helping people let go.
- Letting your loved one know where items will go and that they will be treasured. This is especially important with things tied to family legacy like old documents and photos.
Together you can categorize each item. You can usually get rid of old and useless items like old bills and paperwork, but be on the lookout for important documents that you and your loved one must keep like:
- Birth Certificates
- Diplomas & Degrees
- Financial Documents
- Medical Records
- Military Records
- Powers of Attorney
Keep all of these in a central location like a safe deposit box and let other members of the family know where they are so no one feels left out of the process. If your loved one is okay with it, have adult children claim their own keepsakes during the process. Old sports trophies and high school yearbooks can go home with their owners to make things easier for everyone.
Pro Tip: Sort before you start packing. Go through each room with colored tags to mark items for their final destinations. Remember that seniors can and should bring keepsakes to their new home!
Handling the Paperwork
You may need to change your loved one’s address, transfer utilities to someone else’s name, or finalize registration at your loved one’s community. Make sure you tackle each of these issues early so you’re not scrambling later. Don’t forget to update the address for your loved one’s:
- Bank Accounts
- Driver’s License & Vehicle Registration
- Insurance Policies
- Investment & Retirement Accounts
- Medicare & Social Security
- Newspaper & Magazine Subscriptions
- Voter Registration
After the Move
Adjusting to a new environment can take weeks or months. Your loved one needs plenty of time to settle in, get to know people (including caregivers), and start to feel at home. Everyone reacts differently. Where one person may feel relief at not having to maintain a big house alone, another might feel a little lost and miss their home, friends and belongings.
Here’s how you can help:
- Understand that the move represents a loss. As an adult child, friend or family member, it’s easy to look at your loved one’s move as a “fresh start.” They will have cooked meals, nothing to clean and friends living right next door. Your loved one might see that too, but they might also mourn the loss of a home, belongings, a community, and at the same time, be realizing that old age or health issues necessitated the move. Avoid trying to force them into the social scene too. Making new friends and getting comfortable takes time. Be kind, patient, and understanding with your loved one. Remember that you too will one day be in a similar situation.
- Make memories and continuity a priority. Find a shelf, cabinet, or drawer where your loved one can easily access their mementos. Hang their favorite pieces of art on the walls, and try to set up the space so it’s comfortable and homey. If your loved one has a favorite recliner, a family heirloom or other important items, make room for them. If your loved one wants new items, like a flat-screen TV, go for it! Sometimes having something shiny and new makes the transition easier.
- Show support and visit often. Familiar faces can make living in a new place a lot easier, so visit as often as you can! If you can’t visit in person, virtual visits are always an option through Facetime, Zoom, or Facebook Messenger. Refer to the community as “home,” not “the home.” The way you talk about their community will impact the way your loved one feels about it.
If you would like to talk with someone about the process of moving your loved one into senior living, contact the community nearest you.