When the time comes for your aging parent or loved one to move into a care home, it’s important that you and your family members understand what a vital role you can play in helping their transition. For some, the move to assisted living represents the closing of a familiar phase of life and the beginning of a new one. At any stage in life, change can bring on feelings of apprehension and uncertainty. You can help ease your relative’s nerves and support them as they navigate this shift to a new home and community.
Be the Bridge: You Know Your Relative Better Than Anyone Else
Family members know their loved one best, and this understanding means that as family, you have a unique opportunity to support your loved one throughout their transition. Your constancy, empathy, and knowledge can help to minimize nerves and stress. One of the most important roles you can play is that of the bridge between your loved one’s familiar home life and their new life in a care home. You can help immensely simply by listening to your relative and communicating their expectations, feelings, and preferences to the care home staff.
If your family member is preparing to transition to a care home, you and the rest of your family can “be the bridge” in these three key ways:
Restore Their Sense of Ownership and Control
What Your Loved One May Be Feeling: For a senior, the move to assisted living can bring feelings of uncertainty and a fear of the unknown. Your loved one may be worrying that they have lost independence and control in their life. Will they still get to have a voice in the things that matter to them? From what they wear to the food they eat, their schedule to the set-up of their room, your relative may be wondering what life will be like “under someone else’s roof”. The good news is, if together you have selected a great care home, your relative will soon find themselves feeling right at home.
How You Can Help: Until your relative feels completely settled in and their concerns have been abated, you and your family members can help to lessen their fears and to provide support to preserve your relative’s sense of dignity and autonomy.
One of the most important things you can do is to listen. Ask your loved one what is important to them – and work with the team at the care home to develop a personalized care plan that will meet your relative’s unique needs and preferences. What do they need help with? What do they prefer to do on their own? What are their favorite activities to do during the week? By asking these kinds of questions, and listening closely to your loved one’s answers, you can make sure they have an active role in shaping their new environment to suit their lifestyle.
Maintain Daily, Comforting Rituals
What Your Loved One May Be Feeling: Everyone has daily rituals that provide comfort or bring a moment of happiness to their day. It could be something as simple as a cup of warm milk every evening before bed, or perusing the local newspaper at breakfast each morning. These daily rituals help to make us the unique people that we are, and your loved one’s rituals can – and should – continue in their new home life. Your relative may be worried that they will have to give up the small but significant habits that bring them joy and contribute to their personal identity.
How You Can Help: You know your loved one better than anyone else; but the care home staff are eager to get to know them too. It can be immensely helpful to pass on this knowledge of your family member’s daily habits and rituals to the team at the care home. They will be more than happy to tailor a senior’s new environment in a way that makes it truly feel like home. Talk with the staff about proactive strategies to maintain these rituals. Whether it’s moving the newspaper subscription to the care home or bringing their favourite mug with them, the care home team should work with you to make your relative feel at home.
Help Manage Expectations and Fears
What Your Loved One May Be Feeling: There can be a lot to think about during this time of transition. Your loved one may have many unspoken expectations or concerns. They may feel confused, or unsure of whom to speak with or how to voice their thoughts.
How You Can Help: It’s important for your family not to assume that your loved one will communicate everything they want you to know. Instead, sit down and ask your relative about their expectations and fears surrounding the transition to assisted living. What assumptions have they made? How do they expect to feel from Day One? What do they anticipate will be the biggest adjustment? Listen carefully without judgement and relay these fears and expectations to the team at the care home. When they understand how your loved one is feeling, they’re better able to work with you to help manage a new resident’s feelings about the move, and ease their transition into their new home.
Families play an essential role in supporting their parent or loved one’s sense of dignity as they enter a new phase of life. A huge part of aiding your relative’s transition is to ask the right questions, to listen actively, and to convey the information to the care home staff so that they can serve your loved one in a personal, responsive, and compassionate manner.