It’s time. Life has been kind, but old age and poor health caught up. Living at home is no longer an option. But why is it so hard to make the transition from home life to assisted care?
“People are giving up the independence that comes with being in their own home,” says Chris Gutierrez, founder of the Southern California Senior Resources, Inc. But Gutierrez, like other assisted living caregivers, wants the elderly and their families to know that this isn’t the big, scary event they’re dreading. “Hopefully the change is minimal if the family or their friends are supportive and continue to visit with them on a regular basis,” he says.
It’s usually time to make the move when safety issues start cropping up, says Barry Jacobs, a clinical psychologist, family therapist and author of “The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers: Looking After Yourself and Your Family While Helping an Aging Parent.” (The Guilford Press, 2006) “Adult children ask themselves, ‘Will Dad fall in his bathroom one night and not be found until someone arrives the next morning?’” Jacobs says. “These concerns are counterbalanced by concerns for preserving their parents’ dignity and right of self-determination.”
It also could be about medicine management, according to Gutierrez. “We don’t want our loved ones overmedicating or under-medicating or not taking their medicine at all,” he says, pointing out that nutrition and hydration are also concerns.
Once the decision is made and the facility is chosen, the mental preparation for all involved is the next natural step. Here are some tips from Gutierrez and Jacobs on how to make the transition easiest for everyone, and some misconceptions about the world of assisted living.
¦ Understand that assisted living isn’t an old, smelly nursing home. “We like to say that assisted living is built on a social model, not a medical model,” Gutierrez says. “Many families are pleasantly surprised that their loved ones do well with having more of a social life in these settings.”
But preparing a loved one for a new atmosphere may involve some coaxing. “I’ve seen many families strike a bargain with their senior: ‘Promise me you’ll try living in the assisted living facility for several months,’” Jacobs says. “’If, after that period of time, you want to return to your home, then we can discuss that.’” In almost every situation, he says, the person stays, noting that having the choice restored some concept of dignity.
¦ Make the space as homey and personable as possible. Gutierrez says that he likes to tell families to help “stage” a room before their loved one arrives in his or her new home. Personalize it with artifacts that mean something. He also suggests telling the
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staff about the senior’s favorite foods so they can prepare it for lunch or dinner on the day he or she arrives.
¦ Get involved. That welcoming environment is no good if nobody participates. “They need to make a commitment to go to different facility events and groups –like exercise classes, movie nights and religious services –to prevent themselves from being isolated in their apartment,” Jacobs says. He recommends looking at others in the facility as new neighbors and potential friends. “They should regard the support of their environment as a life enhancer, not as a sign of their increasing weakness.”
¦ Stay connected. It’s the respon-
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