Managing Transitions in Senior Living



It has been said that the only constant in life is change. That holds true for us at every age and stage—including our loved ones moving to senior living. So how can we best support them through such a major life change?

Katharine White, CEO of Brain In Play International —a scientific brain wellness company that provides treatment programs in several senior living communities—points to adaptations of William Bridges’ three-step model to help families manage a transition.

Step One: Letting Go

The first step to successful senior living transition is acknowledging the change and the losses that come with it. After all, moving to a senior community often involves giving up a 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 whole life,” says White.

Though it may be tempting to avoid discussing the challenges surrounding a transition, 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.

Step 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.  

Step 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.

“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.

Using the Three-Step Model As a Caregiver

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:

1Step One: Letting go

Those questions, fears, and feelings of guilt are normal and natural. No matter how difficult it was to care for Mom before the move — while balancing your other roles and responsibilities — you have now committed to fully trusting the staff in a care community to do what you did for Mom. The magnitude of that step, of that release of responsibility, of that letting go? It 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.

2Step Two: Staying in neutral

What this second stage looks like will be different for everyone, depending on the relationship with/personality of the older adult who has moved to the care community.

Some emotional/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 of finding your new normal as Dad finds his, make sure to keep the lines of communication open, the keep the dialogue going about how Dad is feeling about her new place, or how he is dealing with his grief now that he’s not in his lifelong home.

3Step Three: Adapting to a new beginning

In this stage, recognize you are still Mom’s caregiver, but your daily responsibilities look different. If your Mom falls, needs her meds adjusted, needs to visit the doctors, dentist or other professional,  or is becoming incontinent and requires more laundry changes and 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.

You’ll want to visit Dad regularly. You’ll need to stay in touch with the community’s Director of Nursing or other related provider on campus 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! You’ll need to 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.

Finding Community Support

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.

Benchmark offers a Dementia Live program. It provides better knowledge and insight into what it’s really like to live with the disease. Dementia Live puts individuals in the position of experiencing what those with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other memory disorders encounter. By incorporating demonstrations and tools, such as a virtual tour and practical action plans, individuals are able to go inside their brain for the first time, making it easier to care for and understand them.

As a result, the community experts are now even more 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. Many programs highlight ways seniors can boost their brain health, sense of purpose and positive approach to each day.  Benchmark “care” associates become partners in the process, listening and supporting at each step of the way.  This involves building relationships with residents and focusing on their preserved abilities.

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

“As we age and face loss and change, it becomes extremely important to lean on our resources in order to maintain a positive perspective,” explains Michelle Tristani, Benchmark’s Corporate Director of Memory Care. “Throughout the progression of dementia we strive to instill a sense of hope and control for all persons living with dementia and their friends and families.  Through these connections and deep empathy, we become like part of the person’s family.”

Family resource: Use this printable Transitional Care Mind Map as a quick reference guide to reduce the burden of caregiving transitions.

Stay tuned for more tips and insights at Open Conversations
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Content for Open Conversations was developed in partnership with Caregiving Advice.

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