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The Hard Truth About Moving Your Parents Into Assisted Living

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Moving Your Parents Into Assisted Living? It’s Not Easy

There are a lot of aspects of adulthood that no one ever prepares us for. But for me personally, few of them were as difficult to navigate as moving my parents into assisted living.

As I’ve reflected on this challenging transition, I thought it might be beneficial to share my experience here in blog post. I hope the advice I have to offer (all based on things I wish someone had told me before I went through this process) is useful to you, or that, at the very least, it reassures you that you’re not alone.

Moving My Own Parents

A little over 7 years ago now, my siblings and I took our parents to tour an assisted living community for the first time, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day. We were all trying so hard to “put on a happy face” about this next step, but you could have cut the tension with a knife.

My mom was trying to keep up her usual sunny outlook and disposition, whereas my dad parked himself in a chair in the lobby and refused to move for some time. (My dad passed away 4 years ago, so we laugh about this now, but at the time it was anything but funny.)

Once we got dad out of the chair and actually got to the tour, my parents came up with a laundry list of complaints. The food wasn’t good, the other residents were so old, and my favorite one from Dad: “I didn’t work hard my whole life to be moved into a crappy one-bedroom apartment!” (The apartment was nice by anyone’s standards, so I have to assume it was the single bedroom he thought was “crappy”.)

On top of their steady stream of complaints, Mom and Dad kept telling us they were “fine where they were”, but we weren’t there touring the facility on a whim.

Realizing It Was Time

I won’t list every accident and frightening circumstance my mom and dad experienced in the months prior to our tour of the assisted living facility, because it would be terribly long and depressing. Suffice it to say that my siblings and I were constantly worried about one or both of them.

We knew my dad had Alzheimer’s, and we were increasingly concerned about the toll that caring for him was taking on Mom. Once we found out she had been downplaying and hiding things from us out of a desire to protect Dad and our image of him, it was clear that they were not in any way “fine where they were”.

The process of transitioning our parents from the home they loved to an assisted living facility was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Here are a few of the lessons I learned along the way that might help you when it’s your turn.

Warner Family

3 Tips For Moving Your Parents Into Assisted Living

1. Start Talking About It Early

Start talking with your parents about their future as early as possible. The process won’t happen in a week or a day, so keep that in mind and ease your parents (and yourself) into this change by starting a dialogue about it early.

2. Be Respectful Of Your Parents’ Things

You might be ready to throw most of what’s in your parents’ house into the junk heap, but they probably won’t be. Be respectful of your parent’s things, even if you don’t understand why they feel the way they do about them. Deciding what they can or should keep and what should go is hard, even gut-wrenching, so be patient during that part of the process.

3. Lean On Your Support Group

I’m glad that I had my 5 siblings around me during this process, because I couldn’t imagine trying to get through that period alone. But I wish we would have realized we were on the same team earlier, rather than waste time pointing fingers about who was at fault for what.

If you have siblings, recognize that watching your parents nearing the end of their lives is hard enough, and resist the urge to take it out on each other. If you don’t have siblings, reach out to friends and other family members to make sure you have the support you need.

The Takeaway

When it finally becomes necessary to move your parents into assisted living, there’s just no avoiding it. The only way out is through, and as long as you know that you’re doing the right thing for your parents (even if they don’t see it that way at first), you’ll be okay.

Watching my parents grow old and, in my dad’s case, pass away has been a very eye-opening experience for me. I wish I had been better prepared for it, but I imagine it’s one of those human experiences that no one feels prepared for. Honestly, I find that strangely comforting.

If you’ve moved your parent(s) into assisted living, what advice would you give to someone starting that process?

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  • We moved my mom in December into an independent living facility with meals. We wanted her to meet people, so signed up for the optional lunch program in addition to the included dinner program. We moved my mother-in-law to the same facility about 6 months later. Both “independent”, plus meals. It worked out well to move them when we did, both needed smaller households. A few years later, we switched both to Assisted Living in same familiar facility. They each needed it for different reasons. We did my mother-in-law in the one-day process = wake up in your familiar room, go out to lunch, return to new room with almost same furniture arrangement & bed ready for you. My mom was easier, I told her what & why & she agreed with all of it. They had lunch & dinner together every day for about 4 years, in independent & for a few weeks in Assisted before my mother-in-law died suddenly.
    Start early with Independent in the facility to get them placed & simplified. Easier when they are able to make decisions. Switching later to Assisted in same facility was much less disruptive. Each needed Assisted for different reasons, but we moved them 2 doors down the hall from each other for extra companionship. Start early! Our facility only required “monthly rent”, not surrendering life savings. Both were mentally competent when they moved in, so could make new friends & adjust.

    Tough to do, but very necessary. Life was just getting too complicated for them. Moving to our city meant getting a whole new set of doctors for each & lots of driving for me because neither one drove by then.

  • It’s hard for so many reasons, but mostly of where to start once the decision is made. There are companies that help families find places at no charge (they are paid by the residences). I worked with a wonderful woman who had years of experience helping families find appropriate housing and care. She patiently walked us thru the process, toured options with us and was our rock. We also had help with the move. Mom and dad went out for the day with family and returned to assisted living with their apartment all set up – very similarly to their previous home. It was a huge help. They do this all the time and are such a great support.

  • I just moved my husband into a memory care/assisted living facility 2 weeks ago. It was a heartbreaking decision but I couldn’t keep up the level of care I had been giving him at home for the past five years. It’s a huge adjustment but I’m hopeful we’ll eventually settle into this new reality. Unfortunately, the costs are staggering! I am incredibly lucky that I can manage it but I think the average family might not be able to shoulder the burden, and I’m not sure there are a lot of good alternatives. In planning ahead, my one piece of advice would be to get long-term care insurance if you don’t have the cushion for this in your savings. Whatever you think this might cost, add at least 50%!

  • I have been the sole caregiver for my now 91 year old mother in law. She had to move closer to us 7 years ago. This last year she has been in 2 different facilities. 1 nursing home after rehab failed. 2. Memory Care Assisted Living.
    Picking a facility is difficult. As the care giver you have guilt for not continuing. But I knew she was at a 24/7 level of care and it was not physically or mentally possible.
    We thankfully have an amazing facility that one day she will have to leave if she becomes worse or financial reasons (that’s a whole other blog) . So we could have 1 more move in our adult lives for her.
    It is hard. You pray a lot. Cry a lot and just keep taking care of her. Even in a facility there are things that need to be done. Not sure how old people do it alone.

  • Thank you for this, it’s timely for so many people and mike you, I wish I had known more at the time. We moved my mother, who was in the early-to-mid stages of Alzheimer’s Disease into an assisted living community 16 years ago. She didn’t want to leave her home so we bought her all new things—furniture, linens, dishes, you name it! She loved picking out things for her new home and it made it more of an adventure for her. What I wish I had known is to have moved her to a facility with different care levels—since the community we chose was only assisted living, we had to find a dementia care facility only a year later when she needed to be moved. This made it difficult for my mom to be moved twine in a year, and for us having to lead to work with two different staffs of caretakers.

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