For many people, no matter what their age, transitions aren’t easy. They involve the exchange of what’s comfortable and familiar for things that are new and unknown — an uncomfortable situation at best. When you add frailty, waning independence, and/or declining cognitive issues into the mix — the general reasons seniors enter long-term care facilities
— the experience can create anxiety and depression, as well as disorientation if dementia is involved. A sense of grief and loss may also occur in leaving one’s former life behind.
Baby boomers are aging and advances in medical science result in lifespans that far exceed those of previous generations
, so inevitably more and more of us will require assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) and more. The decision to enter assisted living or a skilled nursing facility is never made lightly but may become necessary as needs progress.
So how can families help ease the transition to a long-term care community for a senior loved one?
Stepping Into Senior Assisted Living
For 82-year-old widow Rose Worth*, the decision to sell her Austin, Texas home of 45 years and move into assisted living took a lot of thought and planning. “I wavered half a dozen times,” she says, acknowledging a slow and difficult recovery from a fall was putting more pressure than usual on her adult children and their families. Though she had caregivers coming in a few hours a day, hiring them 24/7 was something she was not financially prepared to do. Her injury also isolated her, as she could no longer go out and socialize anywhere near as often as she used to without assistance.
Taking the big step into assisted living, she found herself in a whole new community and a much smaller space, moving from an eight-room house to a 500-square-foot apartment. “We all knew I had to downsize, which wasn’t easy,” she says. “But my family helped me decide what to hold onto so I could wake up each day, surrounded by the memories that matter to me most.”
Experts say visual reminders of one’s life, including photographs, vacation mementos, furniture, artwork, cherished gifts from friends and family, etc., are the key to an easier transition. They are ties to a full life and though circumstances have changed, there is no reason to leave that life completely behind.
Worth had always been involved in pet rescue, owning dogs and cats throughout the years. Research shows pets have a soothing effect on the elderly, the reason for therapy pet visits to long-term care facilities. For Worth, having photos of her pets displayed provided a sense of peace and comfort, and she says also lifted her heart.
Optimal Long-Term Care Transition is a Team Effort
Neuropsychologist Dr. Thomas Schweinberg underscores the fact that a life transition into a long-term care community may be unwanted and resisted by the senior
— a frustrating process for the whole family. It’s always a good idea to meet with the staff in advance, providing details about the senior that may help them support the transition, he says. Conversely, this also gives the family information for themselves and to impart to their loved one, reducing any fears and anxiety.
Patient listening, support, encouragement, and validation of the senior’s feelings are also crucial components of transitioning, Dr. Schweinberg maintains. It is important that s/he not be made to feel left out of the process, or that there is no one close to them they can talk to about what they will miss about their home and past.
In short, an optimal transition takes teamwork: family, facility staff, and the senior. When possible, all should be involved to make moving into the next phase of life a positive event.
*Name has been changed for privacy. “Easing the Transition into Senior Assisted Living,” written by Beth Herman, Amada blog contributor.