Transitioning your Parents into Senior Living

daughter with older mother using walker

When my kids were 10 and 13, we moved from a small Kentucky town to Indiana. I had a great job opportunity, but was nervous about uprooting my kid’s lives. The new schools were three times the size of their old ones and we were all anxious about adjusting. Within a month, my fears subsided and my kids were comfortable with their new environment and were happily making new friends. I see the same emotional journey when families transition into senior living. The roles are reversed and this time you are watching your parents leave a familiar world and find their place in a new home.

If you are one of the many adult children adjusting to your parent’s new living situation, you may also feel a mix of emotions – sadness, guilt, even relief (Trust me – this is normal!). Looking after seniors with complex medical conditions is no easy task, and like many caregivers, you may feel physically and mentally exhausted because your own needs were often squeezed out by the even greater demands of your parents.

The decision to move your mother and father into senior living is no reflection of your ability to care for them. The reality is that trained professional staff can provide a higher level of care than most family members. Often, it’s simply the best solution for the parents as well as for you. (Keep in mind that you will still be part of the care team and will continue to advocate on your parents’ behalf). More importantly, you can return to your role of being a daughter or son.

It’s vital that both you and your parents maintain good emotional health, which means you get rest and relaxation balanced with work and play. Along with excellent healthcare, your parents have abundant opportunities to socialize with others and participate in enjoyable and meaningful activities. Senior living also frees up time for you, allowing you to go to the gym, get a massage or hang out with friends. It also means you can resume the career you put on hold. That way you can be your best self when you do spend time with your parents and other family members.

Easing the transition
It’s ideal for families to start talking about the move to senior living years before it’s necessary, but even if that is not the case, you can still do things to make a smooth transition.   

On a practical level, you can help your parents decide which possessions to keep, which to store and which to throw or give away. Before your parents move in, let the staff know a little a bit about their likes and dislikes as well as their personal history, including their career, hobbies and family life. At Brookdale, we take the time to get to know each resident individually and help them create a life bio. Families often enjoy it as much as the resident and staff!

You can also help your parents personalize their new apartment with photos, paintings, books, or knick-knacks that have special meaning and make them feel at home. On moving day, make sure to stay by your parents’ side or arrange for a good friend or relative to be there. I met a woman who threw a house warming party for her partner when he moved into a Brookdale community. Friends and family celebrated the occasion with food and gifts. What a great way to make moving day a joyous one!

Don’t expect your parents to adjust right away to such a big lifestyle change – just as my kids did when they went to a new school – after a few weeks or months, they will feel part of the community. And don’t expect yourself to adjust right away either. Having a parent move into a senior living community is a major life event and it will take time to get used to. Wait six months to judge how you and your parent feel. It’s not uncommon to have a completely different perspective after an adjustment period. The new resident often finds a new quality of life with a strong sense of belonging. They will soon develop relationships, settle into a routine and enjoy their new home.

Kim Elliott is Senior Vice President of Clinical Services.

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