“Mother is not adjusting to assisted living.”
“This senior living transition is harder than I expected.”
“Dad is not happy after moving to assisted living. I think I should move him out.”
Does any of this sound familiar?
If you find yourself in a complex exchange of emotions with your parent during the adjustment period after moving to senior living, you’re not alone. You have likely spent a considerable amount of time dedicated to the health and happiness of your parent, researching the right community and assisting with the move. You knew there would be some difficulty adjusting, but you weren’t prepared for the emotions you and your parent may be feeling.
“I’ve been on both sides of the coin,” says Lisa Ward, a Community Sales Director who started her career in the Atria community where her mother now resides. “My mother did not willingly move into a senior living community. Getting her to make the transition was difficult. My sister and I experienced a lot of guilt.”
Hear more from Lisa and discover tips on how to help your parent if they are experiencing difficulty adjusting to assisted living in this video. You can also continue reading below.
4 ways to help your parent adjust after moving to an assisted living community
- Don’t yield too quickly
- Resist being a helicopter
- Make their apartment feel like home
- Expect good days and bad days
Don’t yield too quickly
Many wonder, “How long does it take to adjust to assisted living?” The truth is, it varies. It may take as little as a week to feel comfortable. Many experts suggest it can take as long as three to six months, which could feel even longer if your parent is having trouble adjusting to assisted living. This is normal.
If your parent is immediately ready to turn back around and go home, encourage them to give it some time.
“Everybody has a different timeframe,” Lisa says. “Circle back to their pain point. What is it that they don’t like, other than it’s not home?”
Engage with the community’s staff to learn about appealing events. Encourage your parent to go on an outing or find a group with similar interests.
“My mom loves gardening,” says Lisa. “We connected her with some other master gardeners and the gardening club. Once she put her hands in the dirt, she found her comfort zone.”
Resist being a helicopter
It may not be a good idea to visit your parent too often after moving into assisted living. While constantly visiting may seem like you are being supportive, you could be hindering Mom or Dad during this transitional period. Your parent may begin to structure their day around your anticipated arrival, opting out of events and other opportunities to interact with their new neighbors.
Conversely, never visiting or never calling may make your parent feel abandoned and confirm any apprehensions they may have had about the move in the first place.
“I think being there every day gives the signal that you think something is wrong, and you’re waiting for them to want to go back home. At the same time, you can’t just drop them off and drive away and go. Somewhere in between is ideal,” Lisa advises.
Instead of frequent in-person visits, consider weekly phone calls and an occasional visit for lunch or dinner during the first 30 days. Make sure to check in with the community director as well to address any issues or strategies for adjustment.
After the first month, reach out to close family members, like your siblings, and ask them to stop by and call as well. Your parent may not be completely adjusted yet, but they may have positive things to talk about, like a new friendship or an event they really enjoyed.
By the second or third month, your parent may begin to feel “at home.” This is a great time to encourage visits and phone calls from extended relatives, friends and church members. It may be a pleasant and welcomed surprise for your parent. Encourage others to ask for a tour of your parent’s apartment and the community, or to stay for coffee or one of the daily events.
Make their apartment feel like home
Bring items from home that your parent really loves. Their favorite piece of furniture or blanket, family pictures, and homemade crafts from grandchildren can add warmth and personality to their new apartment.
To put the finishing touches on their décor, take your parent shopping. Helping transform their apartment into a space that represents them will help your parent feel more at home and encourage them to settle in.
Don’t just stop at apartment décor; consider other ways to incorporate pieces of home to their community. If your parent chose to leave their beloved cat or dog in your care, bring the pet in for a visit. If there is a particular comfort food your parent loves, consider talking to the community’s chef about adding that item to the menu as a daily special.
Expect good days and bad days
Every day will not be easy, nor will every day be a struggle. You and your parent will have moments of happiness and sadness, but that is okay and normal as you both process this new time.
It’s better for your parent to have an occasional bad day where they are safe, cared for and in great company versus being home where their well-being may be at risk.
“Do you benefit from having a dedicated staff who can cook and clean for your parent, where you know that they’re safe and you can leave town and have peace of mind? Absolutely,” Lisa says. “But it’s all about your parent. It’s about making sure they understand you’re doing this for them and not to them. You’re transitioning them to be healthy and happy and independent and thriving.”
If you are having trouble managing a conflict with your parent, as well as experiencing feelings of guilt and frustration, consider leaning on a friend, spouse or counselor for support.
As time goes on, many witness their parent becoming happier and healthier at a senior living community. This transformation aids in the restoration of the parent-child relationship. You are no longer the caregiver and decision-maker, and your parent is no longer dependent upon you.
“When my mom moved in, she wouldn’t talk to us the first two weeks.” Lisa says. “She wouldn’t even answer our phone calls. By the third week, she started participating and making friends. After about six weeks, we said, ‘Well, Mom, if you hate it here so much, why don’t you move back with us? We will just reverse everything.’ And she said, ‘Why would I do that? All my friends are here!’”
We’re always here to assist
Adjusting to assisted living takes time, and we’re here to help. Download this useful guide to help ease the transition into assisted living for both you and your parent. You can always reach out to us. Our helpful and knowledgeable staff members, like Lisa, are eager to help your parent feel at home in their community.
Our Guide to Help Your Parent Adjust to Assisted Living (PDF)