DEAR DOCTOR K: We’ve finally convinced my mother to move to an assisted living facility. After spending the past five decades in her current house, she is very nervous about the move. What can we, and she, do to make the transition easier?
DEAR READER: Assisted living facilities are designed for people who can’t live on their own because they need help with the tasks of everyday living. The facilities generally provide meals, help with taking medication, housekeeping, laundry and activities. They are not meant for people who need round-the-clock nursing care.
No matter how clear the need, moving from one’s home to an assisted living facility can be emotionally challenging. Realizing this, assisted living facilities often have people on staff who can help people like your mother to manage their feelings and make the transition easier.
It shouldn’t be hard for your mother to physically adjust to an assisted living facility. The environment is designed to meet the needs of an aging body. There are no steps to navigate. The bathrooms are adapted for walkers. There won’t be any more reaching for heavy pots and pans if the facility dining room provides meals. Your mother may feel comforted, too, if she brings personal items to her new living space. This may include artwork, family photos or favorite furniture.
The new environment will allow your mother to increase her physical activity and wellness. Assisted living facilities always have exercise classes like tai chi or chair yoga, and many offer physical therapy on campus. It’s important to learn which services are available and take advantage of them.
I would also encourage your mother to get to know others at her facility. For almost anyone, in any environment, the more you interact with others, the more you’ll feel at home. An easy way to meet others is to take part in the many activities offered at the facility. There is often a huge variety, such as painting and memoir writing. And there will likely be outings to museums, concerts and sporting events. Taking part will help your mother feel engaged and purposeful – and less forlorn about the home she left behind.
I once had a patient who became a widow in her late 70s. She had lived in one house since she was a child: Her parents had given her and her new husband the family home and moved to an apartment. But she was having trouble in her old three-level house – with the stairs, with handling cookware, with reaching things in the cabinets. Her kids found an assisted living facility.
As you’d imagine, she hated the thought of leaving the only home she had ever known. However, she made the move. A year later she said to me: “I loved my old home. But I realize I was starting to hate it, too. Every time something about it defeated me, I remembered my earlier life – and felt very old. I feel younger now.”
Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.
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