8 Ways to Help Your Parent Adjust to Assisted Living

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A resident at Willow Towers Assisted Living creating artwork

A move into assisted living can be daunting for anyone, but with patience and good planning, you and other family members can help make this transition a smooth one for your aging parent. Once your parent has chosen the assisted living community that best suits them and their situation, adult children and other relatives play an important role in helping them get settled in.

“As with any physical move in life, this transition can be challenging. Understanding that process and helping to be a voice for your parent will ease the bumps along the way. This stage has the potential for being one of the most precious and poignant in yours and their lives,” says psychotherapist Leigh Ann Bradley, NP, Chief Operating Officer of the Healthcare Experience Foundation. Bradley counts herself as a “member of the sandwich generation” and served as her father’s advocate while he was in assisted living.

The following tips can help your family make this transition:

SEE ALSO: Find Assisted Living Near You

1. Go over the finances.

Talking about money is difficult at the best of times, but it’s crucial when an aging parent is moving to assisted living, says elder benefits advisor Michael Guerrero with Elder Care Resource Planning. “Make the transition to assisted living with a detailed financial plan for this later period of their life. What resources do they have to help pay for care now? What options are available in the public sector to help with the cost of care? What private services are available to bring costs down or unlock financial assets?” advises Guerrero.

You might consider hiring a financial planner or accountant to help your family work through the details. Additionally, make a realistic plan for how much you can help your family member financially, if that is needed. Make sure all relatives who might be asked to contribute financially are involved in the planning stages.

2. Enlist professional assistance.

Moving to an assisted living community can mean a lot of physical and emotional work as you pack up your parent’s home and prepare to downsize. If it seems overwhelming to you and your parent, hire an expert – and don’t overlook any caregivers who you have hired to provide home-based care.

“For parents who have been using home care support prior to the move, the caregiver helps ease the transition to assisted living. Caregivers accompany the parent to the assisted living facility and spend the first few days or weeks helping the parent adjust to the change by accompanying them to meals, encouraging them to participate in activities, and simply providing companionship with a friendly, familiar face,” says Neal Kursban, president of Maryland-based senior home care company, Family & Nursing Care.

SEE ALSO: Find Assisted Living Near You

Be clear about the kind of help you need so that everyone understands their roles. Specialists can help with downsizing, packing, companionship, and oversight of the new living arrangement while your parent settles in. Having an outside professional involved in the move and visiting regularly can be particularly beneficial if your parent is living at a distance from relatives.

3. Help decorate the new space.

“Hopefully before you move your parent into assisted living, you have completely decorated and personalized the apartment so it feels as much like home as possible,” says Tim Murray, founder and president of Aware Senior Care. Admittedly, this isn’t always possible. Murray says he hired a certified senior move manager to help him and his mother plan decorations for her new living space, including buying appropriate furniture and planning the layout in advance.

4. Visit and call (or text!) regularly.

“Plan to visit them and see how they are doing -- not just aging in place, but thriving in place,” advises Susan Scatchell, sales and marketing director at NShore Patient Advocates in the Chicago area. It’s important to be honest about how often you can visit or call, and that you keep your promises to visit.

At the same time, it’s best not to discourage your parent from choosing a particular assisted living community just because it’s too far for you to drive, or because it seems unappealingly decorated to you, Scatchell says. Find out which elements of the community your parent enjoys, and focus on those. Visiting will give you a better appreciation for the activities and people your parent enjoys.

5. Get to know the medical staff.

“Advocate for your parent, as a smooth medical transition is important to your parent’s health,” says Bradley. Your parent may need to switch to a new healthcare provider or clinic after their move to assisted living. Be sure to keep up with any recommended changes and how they impact your parent. Scatchell recommends taking note of medical staffing at the assisted living community, such as checking whether there is at least a nurse on duty both day and night, and the staff-to-resident ratio. Be sure you know how to reach key members of your parents’ medical care team.

6. Go over your parent’s medications.

It might be easier to make sure your parent’s favorite photographs make it intact to their new home than keeping track of their medication needs. In fact, a review of patient charts published in the December 2013 Journal of Gerontological Nursing showed that 86 percent contained a discrepancy between the medications ordered for the senior in the hospital and the ones they were given in assisted living.

Whether your parent is moving into assisted living from a hospital or from home, take the time to sit down with the community’s staff and your parent and go over their medication needs. Pay attention to any changes in when and how medications will be given, as these shifts in timing also can cause temporary side effects or interactions. Be sure you understand why any new medications are recommended.

7. Look for social opportunities.

“To me, socialization, in other words avoid your parent isolating themselves watching TV 24/7, should be your immediate number one goal,” says Murray. When his mother moved to assisted living, he worked with care managers to identify ways that his mother could become connected to others in her new community.

8. Communicate your parent’s interests.

Encourage your parent to tell staff about their interests, or do so yourself, with their permission. “It’s likely the staff can connect you to individuals or activities in your new community that will help you get involved and make new friends,” says Nora O’Brien, PhD, executive director of Willow Towers Assisted Living and Willow Gardens Memory Care in New Rochelle, New York. O’Brien adds that if enough residents share an interest, staff can often help find room or time to schedule activities, so it pays to speak up about your parents’ passions.

While a move to assisted living can be daunting at first, your hard work should pay off in terms of a comfortable and enjoyable new home for your parent.

Madeline Vann

Madeline Vann, MPH, is a health and medical writer whose work has appeared in the HuffingtonPost, Everyday Health, and numerous local newspapers and news sites. See full bio