Our focus is helping people live as independently as possible, in their own homes and on their own terms. Home care is always your best option, but there are alternatives to home care including assisted living. When we are consulted about other resources for seniors, we are happy to help. Here, Mitch Waks, Cooperative Home Care, Inc.’s CEO and Owner, and a Certified Senior Advisor, shares his expert advice on Assisted Living.
How can you tell that it’s time for a loved one to move to assisted living?
Sometimes it is not a sign as much as a life-changing event, such as the death of a spouse. If the now deceased loved one was the caregiver of sorts within their relationship, then the surviving spouse is going to need more help at home. Family members and caregivers can fill this gap, but when that is not possible, assisted living is an option.
Another scenario is when an aging couple decides they want to avoid being a burden to their family, and they seek out assisted living to meet current or anticipated needs. They may also want more socialization opportunities.
The great increase in assisted living communities drives them to offer more and more unique and age-appropriate amenities and options to competitively attract residents.
What are the signs?
There may be a range of signs that lead adult children to seek a more secure environment for their aging loved one. Physical limitations including decreased mobility and the increased likelihood of falls, for example.
It is also very common for cognitive limitations such as dementia to begin affecting one’s independence at home. Signs that your aging loved one may need more help at home or even assisted living include:
How do you approach a senior about the necessity for the move?
An adult child typically assumes that their aging parent will be very resistant and angry at the thought of leaving their home. They dread having conversations with them so they put them off, and then something happens, like a fall or illness, that forces them to have to transition from living independently at home to an assisted living environment.
It is better to start the conversation as soon as you begin to observe that their independence is declining. A good starting point is to listen objectively about what they want, and about their goals for their future. You may be surprised! It is also very important to remember that there are options to help seniors stay in their own home, even when they need help.
Home care is a more affordable and desirable option for many. If you present home care as their opportunity to be able to remain in their home more safely they will be more receptive. If home care does not work, then assisted living can be presented as the next step to consider.
Finally, if your aging loved one has friends they value and trust, enlist their help to present assisted living to them. Hearing from a trusted peer who understands your situation can have a positive influence.
How much attention should you play to downsizing so you can fit your relative’s things into the new living space?
If you can bear it, downsizing is a logical and practical step. It will save moving expenses now, as well as the later burden of determining what to do with all of their items when your aging loved one has passed on. Having said that, it can also be very emotional and trying on your aging relative.
A starting plan is to categorize things as follows: essentials that must be kept, things that can be safely stored to consider later, and things that can go. Make the time commitment so that you are not forcing or rushing anything, and remind yourself that any progress made is an achievement.
How do you decide what to take and what to leave behind?
Each assisted living community will vary, so plan to check in to learn very specifically their guidelines within which to work. They should have this information clearly presented and available when you are touring their facility, and probably also virtually online. If they do not include this information, then that is a minor but not insignificant measure to note when you are researching facilities.
Which personal items might be important? For example, would photos and keepsakes be important?
Transitioning an aging loved one to a new environment can greatly affect their bearings. You’ll probably see an increase in confusion and agitation initially. It is very important to have familiar, comforting items surrounding them through this transition.
Don’t change recognizable things like their bed linens, towels, or even their brand of laundry detergent, for example. Bring and hang their favorite pictures and portraits, and use their furnishings when possible.
How important is it to involve your elderly relative in deciding what items to keep in storage and what to sell or give away?
It is important because these are their items, but realistically you are going to make some of the decisions.
Your goal is to enable them to keep what they realistically can, and to be able to disburse and discard the rest. It is going to be a balance of including them and completing the task.
Give this enough time so that you are not rushing, but set an ultimate deadline.
Should you ask if there is storage space at the assisted-living facility when you make your moving plan?
Yes, but if you plan to use theirs, you should understand that you’ll have to move everything to another, off-site, storage facility when your aging loved one moves or passes away.
For this reason, it may be more practical to choose an independent storage facility.
Should you ask if the assisted-care facility has someone who can help with the move?
You can certainly compare their moving prices with an independent moving company if you have the time to do so.
Would it be helpful to consider hiring a moving consultant who works with seniors?
If you have the time and resources to do so, this option may help your aging loved one purge some unnecessary items as part of the move.
The consultant may also be able to arrange their belonging in a way that maximizes the space they have in their assisted living community.
How important are frequent visits after the move to help with the transition?
I recommend frequent, planned visits so they are reassured you are not leaving them on their own and so they can look forward to your visits. Try very hard not to miss or cancel visits, especially in the beginning as they are settling in. It would be far better to plan and follow through with less frequent visits, than to set an unrealistic schedule that you cannot keep. Communicate with the facility to learn what they recommend based on their experience, too.
What other things can you do after the move to help your relative feel at home?
Plan some of your visits during the assisted living community’s events. Join your aging loved one at their happy hour, for example. This will encourage their participation in these events, including when you are not there. You will also get to know some of the other residents, which will help you both feel more comfortable and confident in their new home.
How important is it to visit the assisted-living community over time?
Very important! Assisted living can experience high turnover, from the caregivers and nurses all the way up to the Administrator level. Each of these positions directly affects your aging loved one’s daily experience.
It is also a key area to research when you are viewing potential facilities: ask about how they measure and address turnover, and ask how long the Administrator has held his/her position. A dedicated and competent Administrator can build and maintain a team that will make your loved one’s community stand apart from the crowd.
Unfortunately, this can be the exception so ensure you are making an informed decision.