by Jeannette Franks, PhD, a passionate gerontologist who teaches at University of Washington and Bastyr University; she is the author of a book on assisted living and numerous articles.
Whether you are crossing the country or crossing the street to visit your loved one in her new home, it can be difficult to adjust your familiar relationship with someone who has moved to a new environment. Nursing homes can be especially challenging, but even a move to independent or assisted living communities can alter family dynamics. Here are some things you can do to help ease the transition.
It’s likely that some of your favorite family activities can be replaced with very similar pastimes:
Sometimes people expect their loved ones to take on entierly new social personas when they move to senior living communities, which can result in worry or disappointment. It’s important to realize that if your mother has never expressed the desire to play Bingo or go swing dancing, it may well be that she’s simply not interested in those activities and never will be.
On the other hand, if you really think participation in new senior living activities might improve your mom’s quality of life and she resists, you could plan to do it together for a while. For example, if you think an art class is just the ticket, take it together. If you are convinced that exercise will make her feel better (and it will!), you might schedule yourself to take some classes with her. Usually the staff will be pleased to see you too.
Sometimes the same activity becomes even more appealing because of a change of venue. For example, Lynn, a social worker, invited her mom to join in her own book group. Regardless of the fact that there was a book group in the retirement community, the chance to read and discuss the same books as her daughter, in the company of people of a different age and from outside the retirement community, became a cherished experience for Lynn’s mother.
It can be hard to predict what loved ones might find enjoyable. For example, for some families reading aloud was a typical activity that everyone enjoyed and they continue to do so. Some families would think you were out of your mind if you started reciting poetry aloud. Some seniors who never heard a poem aloud suddenly find it a delightful activity; some elerly people who adored poetry early in life now find it ridiculous.
But you’re not without resources. Ask your family member what he or she wants to do. Ask staff for suggestions on available senior living activities in the area. Check with friends and other family members. These years are challenging and important — whatever you can do to improve the quality of time spent together with elderly family members is well worth the investment of thought and effort.
Update: January 2018