Bring as much of their home as possible into the facility.
New residents will adjust to their new home sooner when the important pieces of their lives surround them. Take time to find out what matters most to your loved one; what’s important to them may not be obvious to anyone else – don’t assume you know what’s best. Their bedspread and pillow, family photos, favorite books (even if they aren’t reading anymore), even the alarm clock they’ve looked at every morning for the last 20 years might be important to bring them comfort.
Give the new resident as much control as possible (and reasonable).
As we age we gradually lose our independence and opportunities to control our lives. Moving into a facility is often not by the choice of the new resident; therefore, loved ones need to make every attempt to encourage the new resident to make as many decisions as possible. When dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, is involved, choices will need to be narrowed down, but even in the more advanced stages, they may be able to select between two good options.
Give up the guilt.
If it was necessary for you to be a part of the decision to move your loved one into a facility, it was probably one of the hardest things you’ve ever had to do as an adult. Resist the potential urge to say, “If you don’t like it you can move back home.” Most likely, the decision was made after much thought and evaluation and because it was determined your loved one was no longer safe in their living environment. The best decision was made given the circumstances; don’t waste your emotional energy on negative thoughts.
Remind your loved one, and yourself, that there will most likely be a period of adjustment.
It’s not uncommon for it to take 30 to 90 days (or possibly longer) for new residents to adjust to their surroundings. Everything is different, from the faces around them, the new schedule of daily routines, the food that’s served, even the new smells of the facility. Most residents eventually do adjust and many even thrive.
Keep in touch.
There is a theory floating around out there that once you move someone into a facility, you should not visit them for a few weeks to “allow them time to adjust”. However, the majority of professionals agree that to do so would most likely be a huge mistake. Instead, make a point to visit and communicate with them on a regular basis. The visits need not be long, but by visiting you are showing them that they are still a part of your life, they still have value, and that they have not been abandoned.
Phone calls and cards in the mail are also important ways that family and friends can let the new resident know that are still thought of and loved.
Suggestions for visiting:
- During the first few weeks, offer to join them on a walk (or wheelchair ride) through the facility to help them feel more familiar and comfortable in their new surroundings, and assist them in interacting with other residents and staff.
- Bring something to do, even something as simple as a few old photographs to reminisce about, their favorite snack to enjoy together, or the new tiny dresses you just purchased for a new granddaughter.
- If you are uncomfortable when it comes time to leave, consider visiting 30 to 60 minutes prior to lunch or supper and offer to escort them to the dining room on your way out; this provides you with a graceful exit and gives them something else to focus on after you’ve left.
- Offer to join them in one of the facility’s activities. Not only will this help your loved one get involved in the life of the facility, the two of you may enjoy yourselves and give you more shared experiences to chat about.
- Allow them to “vent.” There are numerous emotions involved in a later life move. Take the time to listen as your loved one talks about what they left behind and how they’re feeling about the move. They have left everything that is familiar to them, including much of their independence. Listen and validate.
- Provide them with a sense of purpose. Make a conscious effort to help them feel needed. Continue to ask their advice on various issues. Ask them to help with a task they are still able to do like crocheting a hat for the new grandbaby, identifying old photos for the family scrapbook, or telling you the ingredients to their famous potato salad. Thank them for sharing these important things with you, even if all the information or the final product is not perfect.
By Sue Wilson, Certified Dementia Practitioner, Christian Haven Home. For more information on Christian Haven Home visit www.christianhavenhome.org or call 616-842-0170.