You just know your mom or dad would get more out of assisted living if they would just come out of their shell. Their new assisted living community has so many great activities, and everyone else seems to be enjoying themselves. Why does your parent seem reluctant to join in?
Is it possible that they’re shy or socially reticent? How can you convince them to take part in social amenities at their assisted living community? Should you even try? Or will they be just fine keeping to themselves?
Accept Their Personality
First, try to accept that your parent’s personality is not going to change once they move into assisted living. “That’s really important for families to understand,” says Ann Giaquinto, resident services director at Asbury Methodist Village, the 13th largest CCRC in the country with a campus that encompasses 100-plus acres in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
“If Dad is not a social person, then when he moves in, don’t expect him to be the life of the party,” explains Giaquinto. “He is going to continue to be the same person who enjoys TV or reading the newspaper and staying in his own comfort zone.”
While there is a wealth of social activities at assisted living communities (as is the case at Kindley Assisted Living on the Asbury Methodist Village campus), pushing a new resident to participate is not going to work if the person has no desire to do so.
“It’s wonderful to have these opportunities,” Giaquinto says, “but we don’t want to put anyone in an uncomfortable situation. We don’t want or expect a person to change just because they’ve moved to a different setting.”
A better strategy is to simply make them aware of what’s available and let them know they’re welcome to join in.
“I’ve been at this community for nearly 18 years, and I’ve seen a lot of different transitions—some extremely quick where residents just can’t wait to get involved in every single thing,” says Giaquinto. “They’re joiners, and possibly have been their whole lives. And then I see residents who come in, and it takes a little time.”
Socially reticent seniors may be comfortable in one-on-one or small-group settings. Giaquinto reports that such options are available at Asbury. “The activities we have for small groups are plentiful—book clubs, poetry clubs, and various games such as bridge, poker, puzzles, and things of that nature.”
Additionally, off-campus outings—shopping trips or meals at a restaurant, for instance—tend to be done in smaller groups. “It’s a good way to get people out and talking with different residents that they might not normally see,” Giaquinto says.
Ease Into the Transition to Assisted Living
Many families tend to emphasize the social component when having the conversation with their parent about reasons to consider assisted living. But Giaquinto stresses that social activities are just one aspect of the move that will benefit a senior’s life. “I think it’s also important to emphasize the day-to-day things they don’t have to worry about anymore—like doing laundry, preparing meals, taking care of a house, and yard work.”
Keep in mind that your parent is going through a major life change and may be feeling a sense of loss in giving up their home. “It’s not always enough to say ‘You can join a social group.’ It’s a lot deeper than that,” says Giaquinto. “It’s important to understand that it’s a big transition.”
The pre-move and move-in periods are important opportunities in helping your parent be receptive to a new community and the activities it offers. “Residents who have been involved in the planning and organizing of the move adjust more quickly than residents who comes in under duress,” Giaquinto stresses. “Be sure to fully unpack the apartment as well. Leaving behind clutter can leave them feeling as though they must spend time organizing and emptying boxes, which can be a daunting task. If all of this is done for them, they can more comfortably and peacefully settle into their new home.”
Don’t Skip the Get-Acquainted Period
One way that assisted living communities can help new residents is by getting to know them as individuals. “At Kindley, we like to get a lifestyle and social history and some of their background—what the person did for a living, what their hobbies are, how many kids and grandchildren they have,” Giaquinto reports. “I also do an orientation period and really try to spend some time with them. It’s important to make a personal connection—building a solid foundation, answering questions, gaining their trust, and easing them into things that interest them.”
Giaquinto urges family members not to put too many expectations on their parent immediately after the move. “You get families that are very gung-ho and want to get Mom involved in every single activity, but sometimes she just needs to rest. She’s been through a lot, she’s adjusting, she’s trying to figure things out. I think you need to be realistic and realize it’s going to take time for her to make friends. The staff will help by finding residents who have similar hobbies. Especially at meals, it’s important to make sure that new residents are sitting with folks whom they have something in common with.”
Making social connections will help spark the new resident’s desire to participate in community activities. “It’s hard to go to something for the first time alone,” Giaquinto says. “We try to encourage residents to participate in a buddy system whereby new residents are invited by their new neighbors to a meal or invited to join an activity. Often, it starts small and builds from there.”
In some cases, Giaquinto observes, residents may find their social niche by sharing a hobby they love. “Getting people involved in sharing something that’s important to them is a good way to make connections with other people. Having that sense of purpose, belonging, and self-worth are keys to success and a happy life, regardless of our age.”
If ultimately your parent is more comfortable in solitary pursuits, that may turn out to be just fine. However, Giaquinto stresses the importance of ruling out such factors as depression as the underlying cause of social disinterest.
“You know your mom or dad better than we do. If this is a new behavior that’s not typical for them and it’s causing you concern after some time has gone by, there might be a clinical cause that should be checked out,” Giaquinto acknowledges. “But if a resident wants to have an occasional meal in his or her apartment or doesn’t want to come out and be social all the time, you have to realize that people are different, and we have to respect those differences.”
CHIME IN: Is your parent sometimes shy? How has he or she adjusted to assisted living?