Preparing a Loved One for Long-Term Care
Though most seniors wish to stay at home for as long as possible, health challenges often mean that moving to a skilled nursing facility is the best choice. If you are helping a loved one with this process, maybe you spent a lot of time making the decision, and finding a place that is the best possible fit for their needs. Or perhaps, a health crisis led to a move that felt sudden.
In either case, before, during and after the move, family and friends can help the move go smoothly and support the senior during the adjustment period and beyond.
Before the move
Moving to a long-term care facility will most likely mean making do with less space than your loved one is used to. Bringing items from home helps personalize your loved one’s space, but as space is almost always in short supply, choices may have to be made about what to take along and what to leave behind. You can help by:
- Learning from the facility exactly what space limitations apply
- Helping prepare for the move, including arranging for storage or other disposition of items left behind
- Discussing the facility’s policies for safeguarding resident property; for example, you may be advised to mark all clothing and personal belongings with your loved one’s name, and to help your loved one make a list of their things
- Anticipating and responding to special concerns, such as care for a pet
On the day of the move
Any time a person is moving, extra hands help! And not only with practical tasks, but with emotional support and reassurance. You can help minimize feelings of disorientation and dislocation by:
- Helping your loved one unpack, and making sure that pictures, personal mementos and other similar items are placed where they will create a feeling of home
- Sharing a meal with your loved one at their new home
- Getting to know staff members and helping your loved one learn about all the various programs, services, and activities the facility has to offer
- Spending some quiet time after everything is unpacked to make sure your loved one is as comfortable, relaxed, and reassured as possible
After the move
When people move to a care facility, they often fear that the move will come between them and people and activities they love. They may worry about being alone and out of touch. It may take some time and effort for your loved one to make new friends, and to settle into new and interesting patterns of living. In the beginning, families can help by working closely with their loved one and staff to make sure any initial difficulties are ironed out, and to make the new living situation a happy, successful one.
Keeping in touch, staying involved
As your loved one settles in and makes new friends, they will mostly likely develop new routines and a new social circle. But they still crave the feeling of being an integral part of the family. Here are ways to ensure the ongoing success of your loved one’s new life:
Visit just as frequently as you did when your loved one lived at home. This will help “normalize” your loved one’s new living situation. Get to know your loved one’s new friends. Your loved one will no doubt enjoy showing you off! And bring others along—your loved one’s friends, for example. Maybe you adopted your loved one’s pet? Reunion visits can be mood-brightening (learn the facility’s animal visitor policies beforehand).
Appropriate gifts can brighten your loved one’s day. Bring balloons or flowers. Bring a photo album, maybe a digital photo album with a promise that you’ll continue to load it with new photos. Bring special foods your loved one enjoys (but check with staff about any dietary restrictions). Again, remember that space is limited.
Keep in touch. If you live at a distance, or even nearby, call often. Be sure your loved one is connected, if appropriate, with a cell phone or tablet computer. Encourage family members and friends to participate in video chats. You or a computer-savvy family member can serve as your loved one’s tech support to be sure their devices stay up and running. And let other people know your loved one’s new address, email and phone number.
Become a part of the community yourself. Attend care conferences, in person or by phone. The facility may have a family council where you can share ideas and give meaningful input. Take advantage of the facility’s features—walk in the garden with your loved one, share a meal from time to time, attend a musical event or come along on an outing. “Adopt” one of your loved one’s friends who perhaps has no family nearby. Get to know the staff, and express your appreciation. And if you live nearby, volunteer! Ask the volunteer coordinator what you can do, or brainstorm something fun that fits your talents.