If you’re moving an older adult into assisted living, there’s a lot more to unpack than boxes.
For older adults, moving day likely means they’re leaving a home they’ve inhabited for decades for an unfamiliar environment. To promote a smooth move, the experts at Pegasus Senior Living and Goodwin Living shared tips on how to prepare for that move and what residents and their family caregivers can expect on the first day.
What to expect on move-in day and the first week
The staffs of assisted living and memory care communities are especially attuned to the special challenges moving day poses for older adults.
“The first day is very unique to every resident,” explained Taneisha Hampton, LNHA, MS, administrator of Assisted Living and Memory Support at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads.
While move-in day marks the beginning of a resident’s life in a new community, it marks the end of an extensive pre-admission process.
In the early stages, the staff conducts the medical assessments to make sure the potential resident qualifies for assisted living and helps the resident and family in fill out all the necessary financial and legal documents.
“While we’re doing these assessments, we are getting to know the prospective resident, so we can cater to their needs,” she explained.
In the meantime, the resident and family can visit the community multiple times to tour, dine, participate in activities, get to know neighbors and staff, and explore the various amenities.
The resident and family can visit the community multiple times to tour, dine, participate in activities, get to know neighbors and staff, and explore the various amenities.
Getting the paperwork out of the way before move-in day allows the staff and caregiver to focus their full attention on creating a comfortable home for the resident and fostering meaningful connections to the community.
Ideally, by the time the moving van arrives, the new resident is already partially integrated into the community.
The importance of advanced planning
Sometimes a fall, diagnosis or unexpected change in health or life status results in the sudden need for move to assisted living. That’s why advanced planning is so important—especially if your parent is moving from another state.
“Start your research early, tour different communities and don’t be afraid to ask those hard questions,” said Hampton.
Be sure to take note of your loved one’s preferences and even consider making a few inquiries at the top choices to explore cost, waiting lists and requirements.
Strategies for a smooth move
Whether you’re moving a relative from their home or a hospital, rehab or other step-down unit, you won’t have to do it alone. The staff’s commitment to making moving day as stress-free as possible goes well beyond the welcome packet. Here are some strategies for a smooth move:
The following forms and information may be requested and verified before a move can be scheduled:
- TB test or chest X-ray
- Physician plan of care
- Signed medication list/prescriptions
- List of prescription providers
- Copy of Medicare/insurance cards
- Proof of negative COVID test
- Copy of photo ID
- Admissions/residency agreement
- Advanced directives
- DNR (if applicable)
- Power of attorney
- Security deposit or community fee
- Last year’s tax returns
- Proof of Medicaid eligibility/receipt
- Proof of long-term-care insurance
- Social Security documentation
- VA benefits
- Statement from bank or brokerage verifying funds
- A plan for payment if you outlive your benefits
Personal preferences & history
- Family/personal history
- Interest inventory
- Culinary preferences profile
Whether your family needs guidance on advanced directives, financing options or level of care, Hampton said, “We make ourselves available to walk you through the process. We move at the speed and with the permission of the resident.”
While all the forms are processing, it’s a good time to address the elephant in the room—all that stuff!
Typically, assisted living accommodations range from 700-square-foot studio apartments to 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom suites with a sitting room and kitchenette.
To help with space planning, some facilities can sketch out options with simple computer programs. Others provide references to local professional organizers and movers.
But, ultimately, managing a lifetime’s worth of possessions usually requires some major downsizing and distribution to grandkids or charities.
Some older adults relish the chance to declutter and opt for a fresh start with fewer possessions. Other times, streamlining is a matter of safety, as many individuals enter assisted living after a fall at home.
“If the resident has an electric wheelchair, a walker and other mobility devices, it limits the amount and arrangement of furniture for safety’s sake,” said Sandra Petersen, DNP, APRN, senior vice president of health and wellness for Pegasus Senior Living.
With that in mind, don’t wait until the last minute to determine who will take the cedar chest, 90-piece silver service or a garage full of tools. Be sure the family has taken their inherited treasures home long before the movers arrive.
Unpacking the memories (and more)
Often, many adult children choose to schedule movers for pick-up early in the morning so they can place the furniture before noon. Then, they schedule the parent to meet for lunch on-site and arrive at the apartment in time to finesse the arranging of photos and other items.
Alternatively, some residents may want to arrange their own move, Petersen said.
“They arrive on site, tell the movers where to put the armchair down and they’re ready to direct the placement of every little thing.”
Unpacking of personal items is left largely to residents and their families. However, communities usually have maintenance or environmental service professionals ready to help with heavy lifting, picture hanging, phone, television and Wi-Fi setup, and other projects.
How long to stay
Leave or spend the night at the end of move-in day? It largely depends upon the community’s overnight policy, the resident’s wishes and your curiosity about what the community is like at night. Some residents are ready for their relatives to go once the furniture plan is finalized; others might feel unsure or confused in a new environment.
“Whether the family caregiver stays the night depends on the level of support the parent has been getting, the setting they’re coming from and how independent they are,” Petersen said.
Some communities don’t allow overnight visitors due to COVID-19 or other regulations. Even then, visiting hours are usually unlimited, so family can remain until the resident goes to bed.
Whenever you leave, rest assured residents routinely receive an estimated five or more daily interactions with the care team for medication, meals, activity reminders and other services. And new residents usually receive additional visits from administrators, social workers, the chef or other specialists.
“We’re here to support the family with updates on how the resident is adjusting,” Hampton said, “and available to answer any questions.”
Rolling out the welcome wagon
You may wonder, “How will my parents meet other people in assisted living?” During the first day of a move, new residents are likely to be visited by many staff members, including the administrator, the nursing supervisor, a social worker, medical assistants and more.
Even if the circumstances dictated a sudden move without preliminary visits, new neighbors are usually eager to roll out the welcome wagon, Petersen said.
“Some of our communities have resident ambassadors, and they take their jobs very seriously,” she explained. “They actually welcome new residents into the community, pal around with them and introduce them to people.”
For the first few months, new residents are also likely to be introduced at a special newcomers’ reception, orientation, meals and other gatherings.
Caregiver’s role after the move
Just as the resident acclimates to a new life in assisted living, the family caregiver is adjusting as well. While you may no longer responsible for daily activities, caregivers have a big role to play in the resident’s successful transition in assisted living by emotionally supporting the resident—reaffirming the decision to make a change and emphasizing the positives of the new home.
Caregivers can also help the resident communicate needs and wants, alert the staff to any concerns, help your loved one arrange any furniture or photos, and address any of their concerns.
Establishing new relationships and routines
Under the best of circumstances, settling into a new residence and routine takes a little time for both the new resident and the family caregiver.
“Transition is never easy,” Hampton said. “So, we want to make sure you’re comfortable and you trust us to care for your loved one.”
The first few days in assisted living are sometimes a whirlwind of new places and faces. Luckily, help is as close as an in-room call button, a community caregiver making the routine rounds, or a neighbor who knows the ropes.
“For that first 30 days, there’s tremendous support of the resident,” Petersen said. “We’re assessing what they need and helping them build routine in the community.”