Placing your loved one in assisted living is never an easy decision, but when it’s time, it’s important to do everything you can to ease the transition and make the move as seamless as possible.
Jayne Shearer, Certified Senior Advisor and founder/owner of The Home Advantage, which manages households for seniors, offers her tips on what to do before you make the move.
1. Make sure assisted living is the right choice.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important to carefully consider all senior living options before committing to a course of action.
While her company is dedicated to helping seniors stay in their homes as long as possible, Shearer understands that’s not always realistic.
“Health and safety are the primary issues,” she says, adding that open communication with your loved one and with health care professionals is key to a successful transition.
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2. Follow the lead of your loved one.
Once your loved one is committed to the decision, it’s time to start dealing with the physical process of the move.
“There’s a window of time when they’re ready,” says Shearer. “Take advantage of that window.”
The decade between ages 70 and 80 represents a critical turning point, she says, and after a certain age seniors get more fearful and locked into the familiar. They feel that it’s too late – that they’re too old to move.
On the other hand, if your loved ones are wondering why they have so many things and what they can do with them, it’s a good time to start purging.
3. Pare down possessions.
Shearer recommends starting the purging process with old papers that need to be shredded, because your loved ones understand the need for privacy and security. Safety is another clear concern, so you can get rid of throw rugs and other items that can cause trips or missteps.
“Change their environment little by little,” she says. “Make it as least traumatic as possible.”
It’s also wise to pack up unused items and place them out of sight. Shearer describes a client who felt she had to watch all her old videotapes before she could get rid of them, but once Shearer packed the tapes away, the client forgot all about them.
Of course, that’s easier to do with movies and books than with precious keepsakes, but you have to start small. After all, says Shearer, “You can’t start with the curio cabinet full of tchotchkes.”
4. Preserve the memories.
Eventually, though, you have to deal with the more meaningful items your loved one has acquired. As a genealogist, Shearer is a strong believer in preserving our loved ones’ memories, even in the process of purging possessions.
“Parting with a lifetime of memorabilia is a physical reminder of our mortality, and is part of the grieving process,” she says.
To preserve these memories, Shearer recommends using index cards to record the stories of particular objects, including names, dates, and other attributions.
However, she does warn that there is a danger in taking a prolonged walk down memory lane: getting caught in a “vortex of sentimentality.” That’s why she recommends setting a timer and tackling one small area at a time. This way, the process doesn’t become overwhelming.
5. Decide what to bring to assisted living.
Once you’ve chosen items to be gifted, items to be donated, and items to be thrown away, you should be left with a much more manageable inventory. Shearer recommends taking a few things to assisted living that are familiar to your loved one, such as a favorite comforter or chair, in order to make the new environment feel more like home.
She also suggests bringing a bulletin board to post assisted living newsletters and calendars to keep your loved ones involved, as well as a supply of birthday cards and stamps to keep some of their former life intact.
“Help facilitate their continued contact with the outside world,” says Shearer.