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Time to Transition: The Emotional Side of Moving Parents into Assisted Living

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You may have encountered those commercials for “A Place For Mom,” or seen the new Chestnut Place building going up next to the Berlin Mall. Or maybe you have noticed signs of aging in one of your parents. Seeing these may get you thinking, ‘How do I know when it is time to transition my aging parent or loved one out of their home and into a safer space?’

Transitioning a parent or loved one brings many questions and concerns: who will become legally responsible; who will handle medical issues and appointments; who will tell mom or dad that it’s time to leave their home? 

The legal and medical issues, while not insignificant, really are, in some ways, the easier piece of the process. Estate attorneys can help with developing wills and trusts. There are websites featuring all the correct legal documents (power of attorney, healthcare power of attorney, last will and testaments, trusts, etc.) and organizations devoted to helping you ensure that money, assets, property, medical documentation, etc., are in order.

But what about the emotional aspect? 

When looking over resources, one area repeatedly comes up: how to have “the conversation.”

It is best to have the conversation early, when decisions aren’t coming from an emergency; when emotions and stress aren’t running high. It may start with talking about moving your loved one closer to you, or downsizing because the house may be too big for one person to handle. Or you may recognize the signs that your loved one can no longer do all they used to, such as keeping up with personal hygiene, eating on a regular basis, cleaning the house like they used to, or balancing their checkbook and paying bills. It may be more extreme, such as signs of dementia or Alzheimers. 

Are these behaviors an indication that your loved one may not be able to keep themselves safe? If so, it is time to have the conversation. 

It isn’t a one-time conversation. It may happen over several sessions. It won’t always be easy, but you can make it comfortable. Putting the feelings and the needs of your loved one at the center of the conversation may help. Keep in mind that transitioning out of their home removes their independence, plus there’s a loss of personal items and memories, possibly moving away from friends and family, losing the familiar. These are all very real fears, and they cannot be discounted. 

In addition, you may be feeling guilty about transitioning them into a new home, taking them away from what is familiar. There may be guilt about not being able to care for them yourself or provide in-home care. All of these feelings are normal, and rational. And that is why having the conversation (or conversations) is so important, so both parties can acknowledge the emotional impact along with the legal aspects of the move.

If you have siblings or other family members who you trust to help navigate the transition, enlist their help. If you’re an only child, or are the one most capable of handling the situation, you can always get support from a social worker, geriatric specialist, or independent senior care advisor. It is important to remember that your loved one needs to be a partner in whatever decision is made. 

Once you’ve started the conversation, consider what types of living arrangement your loved one may need (independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing); their social and cultural needs; the possibility of bringing a pet; the activities they enjoy; and whether their new home has the resources to assist in any health needs. Can your loved one move from one level of care to another and what will that entail, both legally and financially?

Do your research and find out what type of care makes the most sense. Visit and evaluate local care facilities. Get your loved one on the waiting list and look into Medicaid funding. Then come up with a final plan.

Transitioning to a new home is not just about finding the right space, but also about leaving your old one. Talk with your loved one about what furniture and decor they want to bring to the new home, what they would like to store, and what can be given away or sold. There are estate sales, transition companies, and downsizing consultants that can help.

Going through each piece can open floodgates of emotion and memories. It is OK to do this gradually, stopping and stepping away if it becomes too much for your loved one. This is also a great time to hear stories and learn things about your family that you may never have heard about before. 

The process of transitioning a loved one into a new home is an emotionally and physically draining experience. But it can also be rewarding. You are helping your loved one transition into a space where they can be safe and receive the care they need. It is not an ending to their story; it is a new chapter, one that you can be an important part of through ongoing visits, love, and support.

Check out these resources for more information: “Minding our Elders: Caregivers Share their Personal Stories” by Carol Bursack (McCleery & Sons Publishing, 2005); eldercarelink.com; “How to Talk to Parents About Assisted Living,” National Public Radio, Talk of the Nation.

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