How to Transition a Loved One to Senior Care With Grace & Love
“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other,” said Audrey Hepburn. There may never be truer, or wiser, words for supporting your loved one in their transition to senior care. I asked a friend of mine to lend her family's anecdote to what I've written below. She shared her perspective with me.
"After several difficult months navigating my dad’s struggles with Parkinson’s Disease, the day we moved him to a senior care community came slowly and then suddenly. For 20 years, he managed his illness living independently (my mom had passed away years earlier) and then it seemed that overnight he was struggling with dementia, lack of mobility, and emotional instability. My siblings and I (seven of us, plus me) were forced to make decisions quickly, with escalated concern for his safety and well-being."
This story of her dad and family is quite familiar as it relates to transitioning loved ones to senior care. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic may increase urgency and concern for existing questions and generate a new set of questions as you contemplate the choices before you and your family.
Rest assured, there are plenty of resources available to you. The following suggestions can help guide this significant milestone for you and your loved one.
Know your loved one’s wishes about senior care and talk about them frequently. Don’t wait for a crisis to force your loved one, and your family, into a decision about senior care. Most people wish to remain in control of their lives and how they live it. Your loved one is no exception. The whole process is the most smooth when you can have open conversations.
Lead with empathy. It’s easy to get swept into a “caretaker” or “checklist” mentality when it comes to communicating about your loved one’s care. There’s temptation to focus on “where, when, how, etc.” and to treat this significant decision like a series of transactions. This is an ideal time to practice the Golden Rule to “do unto others as would have done to you.” Put yourself in your loved one’s shoes and consider how you would like someone to approach this conversation with you.
What is most important to you? What are your greatest fears? Remember the value of asking questions of your loved one. Don’t assume you know their philosophical or practical thinking on the matter. Asking questions can be a helpful way to learn essential information about the kind of community they wish to live in, who they wish to be close to, what kinds of amenities and resources are most important. And remember to ask about concerns and fears. Hearing this firsthand will help you understand your loved one’s point of view and gain perspective on any hesitancy or resistance to change.
For many people, communication is the most difficult step in leading through this major life change. Delaying conversations, or not preparing adequately, can complicate planning, timing, and ultimately outcomes. Take the time to prepare for conversations; consider practicing with a friend or colleague who can provide constructive feedback on your approach.
What are you not seeing? Exploring this question will help you answer another common question: “How will I know it’s time for my loved one to move to a senior care residence?” It can be easy to adapt to a “new normal” with our loved ones and fail to see signs of concern.
Be sure to see and observe your loved one. What is new or different in their physical appearance? Have their surroundings changed? Are there inconsistencies in their communications? How are their social skills? No one knows your loved one like you do; trust your instincts and immediately follow up on changes you observe.
What’s your next step? One of the most important reasons to know your loved ones wishes, and to talk about them frequently, is to ensure you have adequate time and energy to research and plan for the transition. Here's some steps:
Have a conversation with your loved one. The more your loved one knows and is involved, the easier the transition to senior living.
Connect with a senior living advisor, case manager, or social worker. Many senior living residencies offer the professional services of these individuals as you research the facility and explore options.
Consult a variety of sources as you research senior care residencies. Read reviews, connect with friends and acquaintances, consult a long-term care ombudsman. Your loved one’s primary physician or pastor can also be helpful resources.
Determine cost and payment options. How will social security, savings, selling a home, or other benefits influence the final choice? Consider monthly costs, including extra amenities and services, that may not be covered by the facility.
Tour several facilities, multiple times. To get a real sense of the experience, atmosphere and staff, visit the same residence multiple times. Ensure your loved one has an opportunity to ask questions and to engage with staff and other residents. While it isn't always possible to go into each community because of COVID-19 restrictions, virtual tours and socially distanced meetings outdoors are a wonderful alternative.
Prepare to move. You’ll want to think about your loved one’s personal and household belongings (how to downsize, liquidate, etc.), legal paperwork and documentation and logistics and timing of the move. For you, and your loved one, move-in day will present mixed emotions. Get through the move swiftly, but take care not to accelerate the emotional transition. This is a big adjustment that will take time, and every individual will require space to process in a way that suits their needs.
And Then, COVID-19
The recent coverage of senior living communities and COVID-19 may raise questions and concerns for you and your loved one. Whether the transition to senior care has been a work in progress or is a new conversation to you and yours, the tools and resources provided here apply. Follow the suggestions to see and observe your loved one, noting changes in their physical and emotional well-being. Consider the effects of stay-at-home orders; continuous isolation can create extra physical and emotional stress for those with limited access to technology, outdoor activity, and connection to others.
You may find comfort in learning about the positive side of living in a senior care residence during the COVID-19 pandemic:
A sense of security and community. Residents of senior communities can trust, and rely on, the staff and administrators for quality, consistent care with their best interests in mind.
Staff is attentive to residents’ physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Seniors are more susceptible to the dangers of COVID-19 not necessarily because of where they live, but due to underlying health conditions. Ongoing care is provided by staff trained in infection control and with access to protective equipment and sanitation.
A sense of community—connecting with other residents, delivery of meals and groceries and access to activities—is a vital part of ongoing stability and positive well-being. Picture hallway bingo, social distanced music sessions, and more; there is no shortage of creative ways to keep residents engaged.
With Grace and Love
My friend's story has a silver lining. While her dad's transition to senior care started out chaotic and uncertain, her family was met by staff, administration, and residents in his community who told them everything they needed to know and guided their future with grace and love.
Go easy on yourself as you discern this transition, and heed Audrey Hepburn’s advice to “hold onto each other.”