RETIREMENT COACHING – DEBBIE DRINKARD GROVUM – “Honey, this just isn’t working for me. I don’t think I can stay here.” Some version of this welcome greeted me each time I walked into my mom’s room in her new assisted living facility.
We would talk about what was and was not working for her and after about an hour, she would say something about how nice the people were and she knew it was probably the best place for her to be. And she would decide to try it a little longer.
Life changed quickly for my mom-she gave up her house, her car and her independence in one week. Maybe the adjustment from independent to assisted living is easier for some people than it was for my mom, but talking with the staff and other children of residents makes me think my mom’s experience was pretty typical. One staff member told me it takes about a month for residents to feel comfortable with their new home. I remember thinking at the time that it would take my mom much longer than a month to feel comfortable in her new home, but she really seemed to come to peace with her new living arrangement in four to five weeks.
Helping a parent with long-term care needs is a common challenge for baby boomers. According to a 2009 AARP survey more than 42 million Americans provide family caregiving for an adult who needs help with daily activities and an additional 61 million provided at least some care during the year. Even though I knew many people dealing with the same aging-parent-issues, it was difficult to see my mother struggle with her new reality. Fortunately, life in assisted living did improve for her, and the following factors helped.
Choice – It was important for my mom to feel like she had options. At first she told everyone she was trying this place out, had not signed a contract and could go somewhere else if it didn’t work out. And that was true. It would have been costly and a bit of a hassle, but it was her decision to stay or go.
Independence – Giving up her car was harder for her than giving up her house. Because she could no longer go where and when she wanted, outings became very important. Although her facility offered bus and cab service, she most enjoyed having family or a friend take her somewhere. Some days she was too weak to walk very far on her own, but she still looked forward to getting out and riding somewhere in the car. On one outing she learned to drive the motorized scooter at Target and enjoyed going up and down the aisles.
Quality – Finding a good assisted living facility can feel like a daunting task. We benefitted from the recommendation of a trusted friend with family and friends who had stayed in the facility my mom chose. The publication Since You Care: Choosing an Assisted Living Community by MetLife offers guidelines and resources for choosing an assisted living facility.
Familiarity – Although most of her furniture was too big for the new apartment, my sister used the bedding, dishes and some pictures from her former house to make her new apartment feel more like home. Before I moved my mom into her new apartment, my sister furnished and decorated it and made the bed exactly as it was in her home. When she arrived at her new home, all we had to do was unpack the clothes she had with her.
Relationships – It was hard for my mom to leave her friends and her church, so we helped her stay in touch by taking her back to visit. We phoned and visited more frequently and made sure she knew she was not alone. The welcoming staff and residents helped her quickly make new friends.
Mom still talks about missing her old home and her life and her car, and she probably always will. But she also talks about why her new home is a good place for her. Visiting my mom a few weeks ago, I overheard a daughter saying to her mom in the hallway, “Let’s just see, Mom. It will probably get better.” Yes, it probably will.