The Transition to Care: How to Manage Emotional Challenges

Have you ever had to move to a new town? Do you remember the feelings you experienced before and after the move? You may have wondered and worried about what the new place would be like, how you would find your way around, and whether you’d be able to make new friends there. You may have felt sadness from leaving the home you know, the friends you love, and the chance to visit familiar places, such as a favourite park.

Your loved one’s move to a care home evokes all of these feelings and more – and not just for them, but for everyone involved in the transition. It is a journey that a family embarks on together, and it can be an emotionally challenging process for everyone involved.

Understanding and preparing for the emotional aspects of this journey can help you and your loved one find ways to manage these feelings as you navigate the transition to care.

What Do People “Normally” Feel At This Time?

While each individual’s experience is unique, there are common emotions that most families can expect to deal with at some point in the process.

A new resident may experience feelings of grief; they may feel that they are losing the home they knew, and wonder how much of their familiar life will be preserved throughout and after the transition. Feelings of anxiety and fear can also play a big role during a transition; unanswered questions and worries can loom large as they try to get a picture of what life in their new home will be like.

Family members feel grief and loss too; you may find yourself thinking: “Why is this happening now?” and “I wish it didn’t have to be this way.” Children and family also experience worry about their loved one and feelings of guilt over the move.

Both the new resident and their families need compassion, understanding, and attention throughout this journey. Be gentle with yourself and your loved one. Some days may not go so smoothly – allow one another time to grieve. It takes time for everyone to adjust.

Easing the Transition

The emotional challenges that accompany this transition are usually easier to manage when you have practical tasks to focus on. Here are two actions that can help ease the transition:

  1. Honor and Preserve Daily Routines and Rituals: A new resident’s feelings of loss and grief can be immensely relieved by keeping their favourite rituals intact in their new home. If your loved one likes to have a cup of tea with toast at 10 a.m. each morning, preserving this ritual is essential to infuse their new life with a feeling of “home.” As a new resident sees that their daily, comforting rituals won’t be swept aside or forgotten, the feelings of loss begin to ease.

    What you can do: Make time in the weeks leading up to the move for your loved one to share what’s important to them. Let them know that there’s no detail too small to mention – in fact, it’s the little daily rituals that often bring the most comfort and happiness. These are the details the care home team needs to know, as they are eager to make new residents feel at home. Communicate what’s important to your loved one so that their care team can adapt and respond to their needs and preferences.

  2. Preserve the Joys of Socializing: One of the simple pleasures of home is having the freedom to invite a friend to drop by for a visit. New residents may think that they can’t host friends or family in their new care home, and worry that their social life will change or that they will feel lonely and isolated. However, life in a care home is full of vibrant, enriching social experiences. You can relieve your loved one’s concerns by assuring them that they can still visit with friends and family in their new home.

    What you can do: Talk to the care home about hosting and visiting options for your loved one. There are common areas that residents can use for visiting with friends, and residents can also host visitors and share meals in their rooms for added privacy.

Both a new resident and their family will begin to feel better as they settle into their new life. Taking practical action to relieve fears and lessen feelings of loss will help your loved one begin the next phase of their life with confidence and comfort. The most important thing you can do is to foster open communication with your loved one and with the staff at the care home – they’re here to help.

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