Making the decision to move your loved one into assisted living is challenging enough — not knowing what comes next can make it feel even more overwhelming.
This significant life change comes with complicated emotions. Someone living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia may feel anger and a sense of loss for their independent life. As a caregiver or family member, you may feel relieved that your loved one is getting the care they need while simultaneously feeling guilty or fearful that they’ll resent you.
More than likely, you’re both experiencing grief, anxiety, and stress. But rest assured: You made the best decision for your loved one’s care, and it will grant you both more freedom and a better quality of life.
With a plan in place, you can make the transition as smooth as possible and welcome this next step of the journey. Three experts in assisted living care help provide this checklist of “next steps” for helping your loved one make the move to their new assisted living community:
Find the proper care facility for your loved one’s needs
Choosing the type of professional care services and facilities is perhaps one of the most important decisions regarding your loved one’s care. This article can help identify the proper care setting for their needs and priorities.
A Place for Mom is a referral service that simplifies the process of finding senior living and home care with personalized guidance. Their team of 400+ local experts helps families find the right solution based on needs, budget, and timing. Services are paid for by the participating communities and providers, making them free to families and caregivers.
Sue Johansen, Executive Vice President at A Place for Mom, says when choosing a senior living community for your loved one, it’s important to consider various factors, such as the level of care, activities, and dining programs
“The importance of the room itself should also not be overlooked, as it serves as a comforting and familiar home base for your loved one during their transition to a new lifestyle,” she says.
Always tour every facility you are considering; once you think you’ve found “the one,” schedule a visit with your loved one to familiarize them with the idea of it as their new home.
Megan Leone, CDP, is the memory care director at Oakmont Management Group. The senior living company has 64 locations, some among the highest-rated senior living communities. She says they see success in residents who tour the community with their families before moving in.
“Staff members can engage with them and introduce them to other residents and get them involved in the activity or day-to-day life of the community. This eases the added stress of the resident and family as well,” she says.
Prepare your loved one for the move by having transparent discussions about what’s happening.
The decision to move to memory care often involves multiple family members who may have different opinions, which can be overwhelming for seniors with dementia, Johansen warns.
Before discussing the move with your loved one or having them tour any facilities, she suggests contacting all family members involved to “establish a united and supportive front.”
“To ease your loved one’s anxiety, create a simple and comforting script each family member can use. For example, you could say, ‘You’re going to your new home,’ or, ‘This is a place where you’ll be safe,’” she says.
Leslie Florio, the regional director at Maplewood Senior Living, urges caregivers to have transparent conversations with their loved ones about the need for change and involve them as much as possible.
“Explain why the move needs to happen quickly and how it will alleviate stress and anxiety for the family,” she says. “Discuss the benefits of living in a community, and focus on how it will impact their lives positively with the addition of new friends, socialization, and programming.”
However, waiting to inform your loved one until the week the move is happening is recommended to reduce time spent anticipating the change. Florio reminds caregivers that resistance and possible anger are “inevitable” with any “successful move” to an assisted living community.
“Setbacks are inevitable in this challenging transition, and patience is key,” she says. “Validate their concerns and help them overcome objections. Redirect with positive reinforcement about the benefits of a move and keep them involved in the decision.”
Create a moving strategy to reduce stress around the process
Consider every aspect of the process: downsizing, packing, moving, and storage. Relocating can be a stressful experience, no matter what your age, especially when you have collected years of memories and possessions in one home.
Some families may hire a senior move manager months in advance to begin decluttering or downsizing the home room by room over time.
“This can save considerable time and resources, especially for geographically distant families,” Johansen explains. “Instead of adult children making multiple flights for organizing, moving, open houses, and estate sales, the mover can manage many of these tasks.”
If you cannot afford professional moving services, it is best to start small. Trying to deal with an entire move at once can feel overwhelming, especially when that move involves possessions acquired over a lifetime.
Johansen suggests beginning with a room with “low sentimental value,” such as a bathroom or guest suite. “This will help ease into the moving process with a clear sense of accomplishment,” she says.
She also urges caregivers to involve their loved ones in the process by asking them which items they’d like to bring and what memories certain objects hold, an approach that “enables your loved one to have a say in their transition to assisted living or memory care.”
Sorting through possessions can be difficult, Johansen reminds, suggesting that you encourage your loved one to keep only the things that make them happy and get rid of the rest.
“If they haven’t used something in the past year, it’s a good indication that they won’t need it in the future,” she says. “You can help by gently suggesting which items are no longer useful or don’t bring them joy and creating ‘give away’ and ‘keep’ piles. Donating well-loved items to charities can make letting go easier and provide a sense of moral purpose.”
If there are sentimental objects that your loved one wants to pass down, Johansen suggests encouraging them to divide these objects among family members who will care for them. Some senior living communities offer on-site storage units, which can be a great option if it’s within your loved one’s budget and they have belongings they need to store.
Leone reminds family and caregivers of the most important aspect of the move: The more items from your loved one’s home, the better.
“We all crave routine, and having similar items in a new environment are great reassurance and redirection tools. Bring a favorite outfit, shoes, bedding if possible, and photos,” she says.
Make arrangements for pets.
There’s a common misunderstanding that pets are not allowed in assisted living and memory care communities — but that’s not necessarily true, Johansen says.
“As pets have become increasingly popular and recognized for their positive impacts on senior health and well-being, many senior living communities across the country have implemented pet-friendly policies to accommodate seniors and their furry friends.“
She points to these pet-friendly senior housing options, which provide seniors with the necessary care and support while allowing them to “enjoy the company of their beloved companions throughout their aging journey.”
If your loved one’s community doesn’t allow pets or they can no longer care for the pet, consider other options. Discuss potential new homes with family or friends, or explore rehoming the animal with a foster family through a local shelter.
Saying goodbye to a pet can feel emotionally devastating for your loved one, so be sure to remind them that this is the best decision for them and their pet.
Inform all necessary parties about your loved one’s change of address
Notify creditors, insurance companies, healthcare providers, lawyers, financial services subscription services, shopping websites, and the Social Security Administration to prevent interruption in services and communication.
Be sure to transfer all prescriptions to a pharmacy close to their new home. If they have mail-order prescriptions, ensure their updated address is on file for delivery.
What about their mail? Johansen says it depends on the senior community and your loved one’s physical and cognitive abilities.
“If [your loved one] is fully capable of handling the processing of their mail
and is in an independent living community, I recommend they do a standard change of address with the post office,” she says.
“If the resident is more challenged with their activities of daily living and needs assistance, I recommend having their mail forwarded to an adult child who can take care of it more effectively. That doesn’t mean you can’t send a nice card to [your loved one] in the community, but they are spared from having to take care of important financial and legal matters that may be confusing. I would err on the side of caution here.”
You can set up mail forwarding with the US Postal Service using this online tool.
Johansen also suggests checking with your loved one’s insurance provider to ensure any doctors and specialists in their new area are still covered. To do this, you can call the number on the back of the insurance card or check online for a list of in-network providers.
Most communities include utilities—if that’s the case for your loved one, cancel services immediately following the move. Otherwise, transfer utility services to their new community.
Ensure advance directives and end-of-life wishes are prepared
It’s essential for your loved one to have their health care wishes documented in advance directives, living wills, and other complementary medical order documents. Most assisted living facilities require these documents upon move-in, so get with your family to put these documents in place and make sure the appropriate people have copies.
“[These documents] allow them to have control over their health care and end-of-life care,” Johansen explains. “By creating these forms, they can feel confident that their wishes will be respected by medical professionals if they are unable to communicate their preferences.”
Make a plan for managing high emotions on moving day
Johansen suggests planning the move during a memory care activity your loved one might enjoy, such as an art class, sing-along, or bingo, because “experiencing the benefits of memory care right away can decrease moving day stress and allow your family member to meet new friends and get a taste of their new daily routine.”
She warns that your loved one may express distress and question why they must be in memory care when moving day arrives.
“In these situations, it’s important to show empathy and support,” she says. “Acknowledge that the transition is difficult but reassure them that it will be beneficial in the long run. Don’t ignore their emotions, but also emphasize the positive aspects of the move. “
On moving day, family members should take on key responsibilities to take the pressure off their senior loved one, Johansen says. But Florio adds that it’s crucial for caregivers to check in with their own emotions about the move.
“Regardless of how much you have prepared yourself and your family member/friend, you will feel emotional when the day comes to make the move. It is important to have a close friend or family member to reassure you that you are doing the best possible thing.”
Create a familiar setting in your loved one’s new home
To make your loved one’s new living space feel more like home, Johansen suggests incorporating their personal decorations and items before they move into their new home.
“Instead of buying new furnishings, prioritize bringing their familiar and well-loved items. It’s best to start with a few meaningful objects to encourage comfort and avoid clutter rather than moving all of their belongings at once,” she says.
When decorating a new space for a loved one, she says it’s also helpful to recreate the look and feel of their old home.
If possible, structure the new space in a way that mimics the layout of their old home to help limit nighttime falls and confusion. Be sure to watch for trip hazards such as rugs, electrical cords, and low chairs or ottomans.
Help your loved one get acclimated to their new environment and routine
To make sure a person with dementia’s move is as smooth as possible, make certain facilities know as much as we can about them, their past, and most importantly, their routine.
“This is a crucial step in the discovery process when meeting with families to learn more about their loved one,” Leone says. “Facilities can create a program around their routine to try and make it as seamless as possible.”
“For example, if we know prior to their move-in that a resident enjoys going on a walk after breakfast every day, we can schedule a walk at the facility at the same time,” she adds. “Everyone starts their day on the right foot instead of creating an unmet need that can lead to a behavior, such as exit-seeking, wandering, agitation, and distrust.”
Johansen says caregivers and family should be aware that it may take a week or so for the staff at the community to get to know your loved one’s likes and routines and to assimilate those into their life in the community.
“This first week or two can be a difficult transition, but after that, a new routine is established, relationships are forged with the caregivers and staff, and the quality of life of seniors with dementia often improves in their new, secure, and safe environment,” she says.
Florio encourages family and friends to visit their loved ones and participate in programs the new community offers.
“[Your loved one] will be encouraged to be more socially active if they see you are having fun and participating,” she says, adding that the transition may take 3-6 months to see positive changes and your loved one thriving.