Helping an elderly loved one transition to senior living is an emotional experience. It also requires planning and logistics — especially when downsizing is involved.
Moving from a long-term home to a small apartment can be understandably overwhelming for older adults. The magnitude may even cause seniors to postpone a beneficial transition to independent or assisted living.
“Often, ‘I’m not ready yet’ means ‘I don’t know where to start,’” says Dolly Wittman, owner of the Kansas City, Kansas, branch of the senior relocation company Caring Transitions. “It’s always easier to come to terms with a move when you have a step-by-step plan.”
Learn how to simplify your elderly loved one’s move by planning ahead, recreating the look and feel of their lifelong home, and following four basic steps for downsizing. For what to expect when moving to senior living during the coronavirus pandemic, read our article on how communities are modifying moving, welcoming, and visiting policies.
Level of care, activities, and dining programs are all important factors to consider when selecting a senior living community for your aging loved one. But don’t forget the room itself — a welcoming, familiar home base will ease their transition to a new lifestyle.
You’ve found a community that’s a good fit for your aging parent. Now it’s time to think about the move itself. Salespeople and staff members at the community can provide valuable resources to help you plan:
“When we provide senior moving assistance, we focus on the old space as well as the new,” says Wittman. This helps with establishing a familiar environment.
Discuss favorite features. Wittman asks homeowners which rooms make them feel most at home. “Often, there are areas a senior barely uses, like a sitting room or a dining room. They may have put a lot of time and money into decorating them, but the spaces aren’t comfortable or familiar.”
Once you know what makes your aging relative feel most at home, try to simulate these elements in their new space. If your mom eats breakfast in a window nook full of houseplants each morning, look for an apartment that gets light in the kitchen and has room for indoor gardening. If your dad prefers sports on a big-screen TV, ask prospective communities if mounting electronics is permitted.
Sometimes, there’s a fine line between keeping something because you’ve had it a long time and keeping it because it’s important.Dolly Wittman, owner, Caring Transitions KC
Take pictures. Consistency leads to comfort. Snapping photos is one of the first things Wittman’s team does when helping seniors downsize. “We want to be sure families can establish a familiar environment for nostalgia purposes,” she says.
When decorating, recreate the look and feel of your loved one’s old home: Hang art in similar locations and arrange bookcases and decor based on the photos.
Add excitement with new features. Assisted living offers new opportunities and renewed independence, and a new home can invite updated decor. Wittman recalls helping one recently widowed woman move: She’d lived in a modern house with white walls, but she always loved color. When she transitioned to an independent apartment, she brought favorite keepsakes but purchased a bright purple couch and a sparkling chandelier — great centerpieces she loved showing off to new friends.
If your mom’s complained about an old recliner for years, look through catalogs together to find a replacement chair she loves. It’s one less thing to move and something to look forward to in her new home.
Minimize hazards. Many elderly adults transition to senior living because they aren’t able to remain at home without serious modifications. Apartment layouts should be accessible and easy to navigate without fall risks.
If possible, structure the apartment in a way that mimics their home layout. Having the bed and bathroom in similar locations could limit nighttime falls and confusion, especially in memory care. In addition to unfamiliar layouts, watch for trip hazards like rugs, electrical cords, and ottomans or low chairs.
Getting rid of the things that don’t matter saves space for the things that do, says Wittman. “Sometimes, there’s a fine line between keeping something because you’ve had it a long time and keeping it because it’s important.” She offers tips to separate the two and provide elderly moving assistance:
“It’s easier to leave something behind if you know it’s going to a good home,” says Wittman. Just because something won’t fit in a senior living apartment doesn’t mean it has to go in the trash. Here’s how to downsize while staying connected: