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How to Be a Good Assisted Living Roommate

By Kristen HicksJune 24, 2019
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Moving into an assisted living community can be a difficult transition for a number of reasons. Not least amongst them is that, for many seniors, they’ll be in close quarters with roommates in a way they haven’t had to deal with for many years.

If your parent or senior loved one has spent decades living only with immediate family or a spouse, then suddenly having an assisted living roommate can be a rude awakening. Learn more from these six tips on how a senior can be a good roommate after a move into senior living.

6 Steps to Take to Be a Good Assisted Living Roommate

Living alongside other roommates for the first time in years can be a difficult transition. You have to learn how to be thoughtful about another resident’s needs and wants, without neglecting your own.

There are, however, steps that you can take to help your parent make sure they’re being respectful of an assisted living roommate, while still maintaining their own comfort:

1. Communicate openly.

This is important advice for roommates of all ages: if there’s a problem, they should talk about it. Of course, how they talk about it is crucial.

Ideally, they’ll be able to work out any issues that arise with an assisted living roommate or other residents through communication, but if it comes to it, they can also consider talking to the staff as a last resort to help mediate a problem. Everyone in the community benefits from the residents there living in harmony so will want to help find a solution to problems that arise.

2. Determine the level of privacy needed to be comfortable.

Assisted living communities often have various options available. Your senior loved one may be able to share a room with another roommate to save money or rent a room on their own. They may also have a few different options for how large of a space they can rent at different price points.

Your family may be limited in what you can afford, but if you’re able to, talk to your loved one about the level of privacy they need to be comfortable and do your best to find an option that meets their needs. If you do choose to go the route of finding your loved one a roommate to stay with, work with the community to make sure you find someone compatible with their lifestyle and preferences.

3. Dress to impress.

If your parent is used to wearing pajamas or robes for most of the day, Vivian Young, senior content manager at Good Night’s Rest, recommends reconsidering their day-to-day wardrobe, at least at first. “Dress nicely,” she says. “For the time being, save your comfy sweats and a well-worn sweatshirt to be worn in the privacy of your bedroom.”

Not only will looking nice help with first impressions, but a choice of accessories or clothing may also be a good conversation starter when trying to meet other residents. “Wear a statement piece of jewelry to the community dining room, like the turquoise necklace you bought from your trip to Arizona,” she recommends. “It’s a conversation starter.” If not jewelry, it could also be an interesting t-shirt or a wearable like a Fitbit — anything that might present an opportunity for bonding or sharing anecdotes.

4. Once moved in, be welcoming to new residents.

On move-in day, your loved one will be nervous, but soon, they’ll be an established part of the community watching other newbies move in. Kaylynn Evans, executive director of Vineyard Bluffton assisted living and memory care, suggests making an effort to be welcoming to new residents. For new residents, she says, “it’s very much like being back in grade school and starting a new school.” One easy thing a resident can do is “make sure there’s always a seat open at their table and invite someone new to occupy it.”

She especially urges seniors to be thoughtful toward other residents that are struggling with unique challenges. “It takes a very emotionally intelligent senior to be able to step out of their own insecurities and make those with limitations (such as using a walker, being in a wheelchair, possibly experiencing mild cognitive impairment) feel more comfortable.” Make these suggestions to your loved one and remind them of what it was like on their first day. That new resident that’s struggling with the transition could become one of their best friends — but only if they take the first step in getting to know them.

5. Participate in community activities and events.

Assisted living communities often hold a lot of different activities and events for residents. From movie nights to trips to local museums —the event calendar is probably packed with different activities your parent or senior loved one can join. If there’s something they love doing that’s not on the calendar now, you can always provide recommendations to the staff there for additional activities to plan.

Urge your loved one to sign up for the classes and events available. They’re a great opportunity for getting to know the other residents and staying active as they age. Many of them will be fun and rewarding.

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6. Try to make a good first impression.

Many seniors aren’t initially happy about the move to an assisted living community, it can feel like they’re leaving their old life behind. But according to Young, it’s important to try to squash that negativity on day one to make a good first impression. “Greet everybody with a smile,” she says. “Even if you feel down in the dumps and heavy-hearted.”

You can’t control your loved one’s mood, but you can try to encourage them to be more friendly on move-in day. These are the people they’ll be living alongside for months or years to come and they have the potential to become some of their best friends. “First impressions are important,” she adds. “What you say or don’t say may impact prospective friendships.” Do your best to urge them to see it as a new beginning, rather than the end of the lifestyle they were used to.

Transitioning to an assisted living community is hard, but one of the biggest benefits of making the move is that you tap into a community of other seniors. If your parent or senior loved one makes a point of being a respectful and thoughtful assisted living roommate, the potential for making meaningful connections and valuable relationships is huge.

Do your best to support them in the move and urge them toward behaviors that will help them forge those bonds.

Do you have other suggestions for being an assisted living roommate that aren’t listed above? We’d like to hear your tips in the comments below.

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Kristen Hicks