Advice Assisted Living

6 Simple Tips for a Smooth Transition to Assisted Living

Managing Transitions in Senior Living

Nurse with senior woman

It’s been said that the only constant in life is change. We’ve found that that holds true at every age and stage—including when loved ones transition to assisted living. So how can we best support them through such a major life change?

At the same time, transitions are a two-way street. Family members are also going through a significant change, and it’s easy to lose sight of the emotional stress felt by caregivers during a transition.

We put together this guide to help caretakers manage the change effectively for themselves, their families, and their loved one. It breaks transitions into manageable stages and offers simple, actionable tips at each stage for a seamless transition to assisted living.

Meet the 3 Key Stages of the Transition to Senior Living

According to Katharine White — CEO of Brain In Play International, a scientific brain wellness company that provides treatment programs in several senior living communities — there are a few key stages in each transition. She’s found success in adapting William Bridges’ three-step model to help families manage the transition.

These stages are:

  1. Letting go
  2. Staying in neutral
  3. Adapting

It’s important to keep in mind that while the older adult is adjusting to a new normal and a new location, caregivers also experience a transition — even though they don’t move to a different place. Making the decision to support a loved one’s move to senior living is a huge emotional, financial, and logistical undertaking. Once they’ve settled in physically, you may feel a mix of relief, guilt, and fear. What’s next for me? Did I make the right decision? What if he doesn’t fit in?

It looks different than it does for the older adult, but an adaptation of Bridges’ three-step model can apply to caregivers experiencing this transition too.

Let’s break down exactly what caregivers and their loved ones should expect from each phase.

Stage One: Letting Go

The first step in any successful transition to senior living is acknowledging the change and the losses that come with it for your senior. After all, moving to a senior community often involves giving up a familiar home as well as a certain level of independence.

“You’re letting go of an environment that you might have lived in most of your life,” says White.

This step is tougher than it sounds. It may be tempting to avoid discussing the challenges surrounding a transition. However, we’ve found that it’s healthier to talk through the changes that will take place, recognizing this will be a time of transition for the senior as well as the family.

Tip 1: Acknowledge and talk through changes together.

Caregivers, keep in mind:

You need to empathize with yourself as well as your senior. Those questions, fears, and feelings of guilt or relief are normal and natural. No matter how difficult it was to care for your senior before the move — while balancing your other roles and responsibilities — you may also struggle to let go of the status quo.

In transitioning your loved one into senior living, you are fully committing to trusting the staff in a care community to do what you used to do for your senior. The magnitude of that step, that release of responsibility, and that letting go should not be underestimated.

Allow yourself time to work through these complex emotions. Give yourself permission to cry, vent to a friend, or process your grief over this transition.

Tip 2: Empathize with yourself. You’re transitioning too. 

Stage Two: Staying in Neutral

The next step is the critical in-between time: when the old way of life has passed, but the senior is not yet in the groove of the new. As White explains, the neutral zone is a place of innovation—and of finding new ways of being.

During this time, your loved ones need you to be especially understanding and supportive of their needs. They may not seem completely like themselves yet, or fully comfortable in their new home, but these conflicting feelings are a natural part of the transition.

And be aware that your loved ones may stay in that neutral zone for a while, says White: “We can’t just force people into the new environment.” Be patient through this period—and be present. Let them express their feelings without judgment or guilt.

Tip 3: Be patient, and don’t expect them to adapt quickly.

Caregivers, keep in mind:

This second stage looks different for everyone, depending on your relationship with and the personality of the older adult who has moved into the care community. You’ll both be finding your new normal.

Communicate with each other about what you each need and expect during this time. Some emotional or physical distance may be wise as both of you cope, but don’t assume that’s what the other wants until you’ve asked first. Mom may want you to visit, but you might not feel ready to do so. If that’s the case, call her. Send flowers. Stay connected even as you need time away to process.

Throughout this stage, make sure to keep the lines of communication open and the dialogue going. Ask Dad how he feels about his new place, or how he is dealing with his grief now that he’s not in his lifelong home.

Tip 4: Communicate openly about each others’ needs and emotions.

Stage Three: Adapting to a New Beginning

The final stage represents a time of adapting to the new environment and a new season of life in a senior community. At this point, your loved ones may fully appreciate the fact their new community offers more opportunities for activity and socialization than they had previously. (It’s true: assisted living residents may actually get outside more often than seniors who live in their own homes.)

Though successful transition is the goal, it’s important to recognize that your loved ones won’t get there overnight. It’s a journey. Progress won’t look the same for everyone, so your family needs to maintain reasonable expectations and celebrate gradual progress.

“Acknowledge that everyone is different, and that their successful management of transition will look very different than someone else’s successful management of transition,” advises White.

Caregivers, keep in mind:

In this stage, recognize that you are still your senior’s caregiver. Your daily responsibilities just look different.

If your mom falls, needs her meds adjusted, needs to visit the doctors, dentist or other professional, or even starts to require adult briefs, the care community will call you. In many cases, adult children handle the billing and financing aspects of a parent’s care as well.

As such, stay involved in your senior’s life. Visit Dad regularly. Stay in touch with the community’s Director of Nursing or other related provider about any changes in Dad’s status or care plan. Look for opportunities to problem-solve with these professionals: they have seen and heard it all! Advocate for a different plan if you feel his needs require a different approach.

The bottom line from the caregiver’s side of the transition? You must stay involved; your role is no less important. Keep this in mind as you find your new normal at home: you’ll still need to leave room — mentally, emotionally, and logistically — for caregiving.

Tip 5: Recognize that you’re still their caregiver — and stay involved. 

During Transition: Leverage Support from the Community

Often, the community itself will provide support to seniors and their families through a variety of specialized programs. Be sure to ask the community if they have a special speaker series or events to help adult children understand and experience the new “normal” of their loved one and for themselves.

Tip 6: Get support from the senior living community itself. 

For example, Benchmark offers a Dementia Live program for insight into what it’s really like to live with the disease by incorporating demonstrations and tools, such as a virtual tour and practical action plans. This helps caregivers empathize with and better care for their loved ones.

Our community experts are committed to sharing their expertise with people outside their walls in order to help caregivers, family members and those with dementia get the support they need. Through Brain In Play International, for instance, therapists focus on reframing negatives into positives. This involves building relationships with residents and focusing on their preserved abilities, so that care feels effective and safe from the start.

The support of your senior living community can help you and your loved ones feel empowered throughout the transition to senior living.

Our 6 Tips for the Transition to Senior Living

To recap, here are the 6 tips we covered:

  1. Acknowledge and talk through changes together.
  2. Empathize with yourself. You’re transitioning too.
  3. Be patient, and don’t expect them to adapt quickly.
  4. Communicate openly about each others’ needs and emotions.
  5. Recognize that you’re still their caregiver — and stay involved.
  6. Get support from the senior living community itself.

In the end, transitions aren’t easy. Keep these tips in your back pocket to help guide you through what can be a turbulent, emotional time and craft a transition that’s smooth for everyone involved.

If you’re just starting this journey, consider taking this 5-minute survey to assess your situation and determine whether it’s the right time for senior living for you or your loved one.

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