The Life Transition Blog
Your Aging Parent: Make An Assisted Living Residence Feel Like Home
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For many seniors, the move to an assisted living residence is emotionally very difficult. If they are lucky enough to be "with it", they know that the move is required because they are no longer able to safely live on their own. That realization is very sobering and is a step along the lifecycle that is often not welcome. The other scenario is when the new resident is not completely aware of what is happening and that can be just as difficult when they suddenly find themselves in new surroundings without a full understanding as to why things have changed. In either case, there are simple ways to make an assisted living residence feel like home.
Be sure to bring along some familiar items. It might be tempting to buy a new bedspread for your Mom, much like you would do for your daughter who is heading off to college. However, Mom might much prefer that familiar old spread that makes the new space feel like HER bedroom, and not a hotel. Similarly, while your Dad probably can't move his entire condo into his new assisted living home, you can make room for his favorite chair and footstool. Make sure to place lots of familiar and favorite knick-knacks around the new space too, and don't forget about cherished family photos. Remember that this move is not an exciting time for your parent, and is probably not something he or she is looking forward to, even if she recognizes its necessity.
Decorate the new space so that it doesn't look or feel institutional or generic. Many assisted living communities will allow a new resident to specify a paint color at no charge, or will allow you to have the space painted a non-standard color as long as you leave a deposit to cover the repainting later on. Warm colors on the walls will help make the new space feel cozy. Likewise, be sure to bring any favorite wall art or lamps along, and don't hesitate to have some window treatments made up. They are not expensive, and go a long way toward customizing a space.
When you are considering what should be moved to the new residence, remember to make sure that you have a place for everything. You don't want too much clutter that will collect dust and get in the way. There is a delicate balance between having enough of those familiar items to make it feel like home, and trying to stuff too much into what is almost certainly a smaller space than the new resident is used to.
At the same time, be sure that there is a simple way for Mom or Dad to keep everything in its place. They will feel much more in control of their environment when it is easy for them to find what they are looking for in their home. Take the time to organize the closets and invest in storage solutions such as baskets or bins as necessary. Make sure that your parent knows where things are, even labeling cupboards and drawers if that helps. When you visit, take the time to look around and make sure that things are where they should be.
Advocate! One of the best ways to make the assisted living residence feel like home is for your Mom or Dad to have social connections there. If your Dad is entirely "with it", make sure to ask the administration to introduce him to others who are too. Make sure that he's not seated at dinner with three people who are in various states of memory loss, as that is a sure way for him to dislike his new surroundings. On the other hand, if your Mom has some memory issues but is still physically very active, be sure to request that she not be seated that first night with a group who are all mobility impaired. I promise that if you do, she'll notice and tell you that everyone else is "too old" for her to socialize with. In short, as with any other transition, it's important that your parent immediately finds a few people with whom he or she can relate, who are "just like them". This will make the move into assisted living go much more smoothly for all.