About a month ago, Dad moved into the assisted living community he and Carl had picked from their tours in the area. Dad was pretty excited at first, especially after all he had been through – Mom died a little more than a year ago, and Dad had worked really hard to live on his own for a while. Then a few months back he had a stroke. He recovered well, but had more trouble with balance after the event, and he really needed someone to help him throughout the day.
Early on, Carl was worried that it would be a hard transition to live in a new community, but Dad seemed to adjust well, always eager and excited about the process. He had been happy to search and tour with Carl to find the right place, a place in the city, and they said Dad could visit the college library whenever he wanted, something Dad had always enjoyed doing.
So things are fine, right? Dad doesn’t grumble or complain, he’s eating… But Carl started noticing that Dad seemed far away, that he was more forgetful, and sometimes Dad was even a little cranky. Dad has always been very steady, so this new irritability concerned Carl.
Even when you are excited about a new move, the process can be difficult and can create stress and anxiety. In many senior’s cases, a move may occur as the result of the death of a spouse, or the admission that they are beginning to struggle with memory or health issues. All of these things add emotion and make the hectic activity of packing, cleaning and fixing up a house for sale even more troubling. Memory loss, depression, and other mental illness can contribute further, and even those without mental health issues may experience feelings of loss as they leave a family home they built, maintained, and intended to live out their years within for a senior living community.
Not unlike post-partum depression, it is impossible to know how you or your loved one will react to moving, but you can manage your feelings and find a way to move forward optimistically.
Watch for Symptoms
Keep your eye on your loved one after the move for signs that they may be having a hard time with the change. Depression, anxiety, and forgetfulness are clear symptoms that there may be a problem. Physical symptoms may appear as well, so pay attention and note if your loved one stops eating or becomes inactive and withdrawn. Don’t assume that a senior who has not previously shown signs of dementia is developing the disorder, and make sure to communicate with the care team to be sure of what you might be seeing.
Listen and Understand
We all want to say to a parent or loved one “You are worrying too much, wait and things will get better,” but it is important to let your loved one know that you are just as concerned as they are about their situation, and that you want to help them find a way to solve the problem. Being positive helps when you let them know that you are interested in their worries and that you want to know what is bothering them so that you can act with them to change it. Always remind your loved one that you will take action on their behalf and do what they want when it’s time to make a change. Reassure them that their feelings are normal and that there is always a way to make things better.
Let Them Decide
Seniors aren’t the only ones who worry about the people making decisions on their behalf and whether or not their preferences are being taken into account. Keep your loved one involved at every step of a relocation and treatment plan, and make sure they understand the details. Be careful to assert to them that you will support whatever decision they choose, and always give your loved one all the details of any changes to living arrangements or daily routines well in advance. Surprises can trigger and contribute to stress and anxiety.
Allow Feelings to Change
It’s difficult when after you’ve gone to the effort of moving a loved one to a senior living community, you are told that they hate where they are. It can make you want to say things like “But you liked it so much when you first came here!” No one likes to admit that they have made a decision they regret, but it does no good to dwell on the mistake. The only way to make things better is to be honest and admit that not every solution is perfect. Be patient with your loved one and make sure to be accepting when they share their fears with you, and let them know it’s okay to be afraid or confused – you are here to help.
Make the New Home Like the Old Home
There’s no place like home – but what about a home makes us feel safe? Most of the time we think of the things in our home that we are used to, like furniture and pictures. Bring as many of these as you can to the new home, and try to arrange the new rooms to be like the rooms where your loved one spent most of their time before moving. Take photos of the old home and use them to arrange things as similarly as possible, including small details like the things on top of a nightstand or dresser. These tiny details can make a big difference in helping a loved one to adjust to a new home.
Carl made a point of asking the care team if they had notice Dad acting depressed or lonely, and they responded to let Carl know that his dad had been a little gloomy and that he had said a few times how much he wished his wife were here, that she would have like something or would have hated another.
Carl went to his dad right away. “Dad, how’re things? You still like it here? I’m a little worried, and I just want you to know that I’m happy to listen and help.”
“Oh, Carl, thank, yeah, I’m okay. I go to the library a lot. And there’s a nice little dog park that is nice to sit in. But I keep thinking how much I miss your mom. I kind of didn’t realize how much the house reminded me of her, kept her with me.”
“I felt that way a little, too,” Carl said. “I think she would have wanted us to be happy, though. To move on to new things. But maybe sometime we can drive by the old house, just kind of say hi, maybe take a picture for your wall.”
Dad nodded. “Yeah. I would like a picture. That would be nice.”