Navigating the first few months of a move to assisted living

Navigating the first few months of a move to assisted living


About 1 million Americans reside in assisted living facilities, according to the National Center for Assisted Living. Assisted living communities help promote independence and continued social engagement among residents while easing the burden on family caregivers. Residents have access to skilled nursing, rehabilitation and other amenities and services as needed, and family members know their loved one is safe and cared for.

Despite the many benefits and growing numbers choosing this level of care, the decision to move into assisted living is still often a painful one for families.

Much like finding the perfect house, choosing the right assisted living residence requires a thorough inventory of your loved one’s wants and needs, doing research, taking tours and asking for guidance along the way. Once the final decision has been made, you may still experience intense emotions — most commonly guilt — and find yourself second-guessing your decision. Knowing what to expect can help you through and beyond the move.

Expect to be exhausted on moving day, both emotionally and physically. You will likely be forced to downsize your loved one’s belongings. Just because a loved one is moving into a new “home” doesn’t mean they shouldn’t bring some of the things that brought them joy in their previous one. Remember to pack photographs of family and friends, photo albums, favorite books, a favorite chair or an item that comforts them from a spouse who has passed away.

Expect to feel guilt. Your loved one’s initial reactions to their new home can cause you to rethink or second-guess your decision. Hearing the woes of a loved one does not make this easier. Hearing how they are lonely, that they hate the food or just want to go home could have you near your breaking point. Expect these protests; in fact, prepare for them. Listen, be reassuring and try to highlight the positives. Remember what led you to make this impossible decision in the first place. Remember your loved one is safe and taken care of. Remember that tomorrow is another day.

Expect bumps in the road. The community is getting to know your loved one, and your loved one is getting to know the community. Ask questions. Encourage your loved one to socialize and participate in activities. Communicate with staff as often as possible, especially in the beginning. You are the biggest asset the staff will have and you are both on the same team. Keep an open mind, but expect your loved one to have many fears. Listen to them all. Offer suggestions but remain realistic. No place is perfect. You and your loved one may see opportunities to improve something at their new home, but your loved one may hesitate to speak up after moving to a new place. Do it for them. Give the community a chance to fix whatever concerns you have.

Expect your loved one to feel like they are giving up their independence. This is usually the hardest pill to swallow when moving into an assisted living facility. However, maintaining independence is one of the main goals of Assisted Living. Seek the support of the staff to help you identify ways your loved one can assert their independence, whether that’s encouraging them to continue their weekly coffee date with friends from their old neighborhood or continuing a hobby with friends in their new home. Unfortunately, the truth is that there is no quick-fix guide to navigating a loved one’s loss of independence. Remember to be patient and understanding. Encourage your loved one to speak up and be part of shaping their new life and new home.

Caitlin Bailey is administrator of Allied Services Center City Residence in Wilkes-Barre.