Knowing When It’s Time to Transition a Loved One to Assisted Living
When parents or older loved ones are resistant to moving, it can be difficult to encourage them to transition to assisted living. Ideally, older adults make the move to independent senior living long before needing health assistance. Some people, however, prefer to stay in their homes for as long as possible. And if your loved one lives alone, changes in their health can go unnoticed—even by them.
Read on to learn when it’s time to consider assisted living for your loved one, and how you can help ensure a more peaceful transition for everyone.
Learn and look for a variety of signs
Clear indications like memory loss, falls, and serious health conditions make it easy to identify the need for more care. But less noticeable signs can show up in daily life routines, too. Examples of these signs could include:
- difficulties with finances
- struggles with keeping the home clean
- a decline in personal hygiene.
These signs can show up during life events like the loss of a spouse or partner—especially if that person managed the finances and household. They can also occur alongside conditions like depression and loneliness.
Other symptoms that might go undetected include the “sundowner” signs. “Sundowning” refers to behaviors that occur late in the day and into the evening. Oftentimes, these symptoms signal forms of dementia or memory loss. These include drastic behavior and cognitive changes like confusion, aggression, anxiety, and trouble with directions.
Holly Wilson, RN, serves Era Living as the Area Community Health Director for all eight of its retirement communities. She explains that early recognition of any of these signs can be very specific to your loved one. Staying current on their general health and medical reports is a good start. But it’s also important to pay attention to emotional, social, and cognitive health changes as well.
Behavior and memory changes can be easier to notice in social settings. If your loved one currently participates in virtual activities, see if they are comfortable with you joining one in the future. Notice if they experience any forgetfulness or frustration during social interactions. And keep an eye on any changes in lifestyle or social patterns, like loss of interest in their usual activities or social circles. There may be underlying issues they’re reluctant to talk about.
All these signs are easier to catch when you know their temperament and daily routines. But it’s more common today that family members live further apart and see each other less often, especially during the pandemic. Holly recommends planning ahead as a family and creating a support system that makes the most sense for your loved one. This may include family, friends, and/or a care manager to check on them often.
Prepare a strong support system for the conversation and transition
The initial conversations about transitioning to assisted living are usually not easy ones. The need for assisted living can bring up fears, insecurities, and feelings of weakness and helplessness. It’s important to walk into it with compassion and empathy. Holly’s advice is to tailor the approach to your loved one’s personality, health challenges, social situation, and sensitivities.
It may also help to consider who will talk about the transition with them and make it a smoother conversation. Those who still see identify as the family protector and provider may resist talking with family about the need for assisted living. But they may be more receptive to a conversation with a trusted friend or former colleague.
Plan for trial and error in identifying the best care solution
Once you’ve determined the need for further care, you can start to explore the different solutions that include assisted living. According to Holly Wilson, there will likely be some trial and error involved. It’s rarely a ‘one and done’ solution, she says, and the process is different for every family. And working through any mistakes with open communication and an “in this together” mentality can help ease your loved one’s stress. “The most important thing is that they feel supported,” says Holly.
This can also mean helping them navigate this new transition. Involving your loved one in the day-to-day goals, even small ones, can help give them the sense of independence and empowerment. Holly recommends working with the family support system to identify obvious barriers and hurdles for your loved one. These may include health conditions, difficulty with change, and tendency toward anxiety or panic. Acknowledging these within the family or supportive group and adjusting to avoid or remove them can help smooth out the process.
Learn about and gather resources
Knowing what supportive resources you have is key to the transition, says Holly. Private care options, community support services like church programs, and Meals on Wheels may also be good options. Holly also advises adding in a care manager referred by someone you trust or a local senior community. A care manager can discuss difficult or complex issues, identify the level of care needed, and help the family plan with the best options.
The Era Living Community Relations team also offers resources to help families reach the solution they need. “We’re not just focused on moving someone into assisted living if that’s not what’s best for them,” says Holly. “We have a responsibility and moral obligation to help them find the best setting for them.”
If you know of a loved one that may be need assisted living care, you can reach out to care experts on the Era Living Community Relations team with questions.