Moving into a senior living community is not typically talked about in a positive manner, or talked about at all. Unfortunately, most of us still picture the old, dark nursing home halls from the past and can feel uneasy about looking at senior communities. They've come a long way since then but, even so, senior communities are often still considered to be a daunting topic. No one wants to move, the price is never right, and the decision is never unanimous. Many times the only way to learn how to navigate the senior care industry is through experience. I've come up with a list of my "Top 5" things that I think families should know when it comes time to pick a community and organize a move:
1. It isn't just about getting the right care, it's about finding the right lifestyle.
Most of the senior living communities are raising their standards and adding more care options to keep up with the competitive market. Once you have determined what type of community will meet your physical needs, it's important to visit your various options to feel out the type of lifestyle they offer. Make sure to visit each community multiple times, both weekday and weekend, to have lunch or join an activity so you will get the best idea of how a typical day goes.
Things to Look For: how staff interact with the residents and each other (tone/eye contact), what types of activities and alternative activities are offered, manager presence on the floor, demeanor of residents (are they happy/engaged/comfortable).
2. Don't skimp on packing.
Moving to a senior community involves downsizing, but you still want your apartment to feel like home. Bring plenty of clothing options, wall hangings, textiles and personal touches. It's easy to resist moving too many things because it isn't your "real home". Most moves will be permanent and the apartment needs to feel warm and inviting in order to be a desirable living space.
Transition Tip: ALWAYS LABEL EVERYTHING! especially if the community offers laundry and housekeeping services. 99% of lost items can be returned if labelled properly. This includes photos, clothing, sheets, socks, shoes, pillows, and decorative items.
3. No one is going to love your family member as much as you do.
The hardest part of transitioning, especially if you have been the one providing care, is coming to terms with the staffing ratio at a community. The personalized care you have been providing for your family member will never be matched... but that is okay! Speaking from experience, there ARE enough staff to care for the residents. However, there are not enough staff to give you or your family member individual attention at all times. If you have a question about care or staffing it's best to take it to the nurse in charge, or one of the management team, rather than asking a care-staff member.
Transition Tip: check in regularly, keep open communication with the management team, and continue doing a special activity with your loved ones. If you always had lunch out on Wednesdays then continue that tradition. One of my former resident's husband would take her on movie dates regularly because that was their special time together. Whatever your traditions, make an effort to keep them up.
4. You need to have your paperwork ready.
The admissions packet and contract are pretty lengthy, but there is a reason for every paper in the packet and most are state requirements. It is so important to complete all paperwork ahead of meeting with the community director to sign the contract. This will give you ample time to go over questions and address important topics, rather than using your one-on-one time with the community director filling out papers. Additionally, having paperwork in before the move in day will further reduce "things to remember" that may cause unnecessary stress.
Transition Tip: bring copies of your Power of Attorney, Medical Directives, and insurance cards to the contract signing. Most communities require these documents a before admission and it can be difficult to get them out of a safety deposit box quickly if you're scrambling at the last minute.
5. You can never fully prepare for move-in day.
It is completely normal to be emotional or experience stress on move-in day-- even if you have worked up to this moment for a long time. You will probably forget something, find yourself short-fused or feel like nothing is going as planned. Pause and give yourself a minute when you are feeling overwhelmed, and always ask for help. Bring a friend for support or approach a manager for assistance instead of trying to solve every little snag by yourself.
Transition Tip: If you DO forget something you can always bring it later in the week if it is not 100% necessary. Keep a running list of things you need to bring during the first few days, and bring them all at once. Making multiple trips to the store will be stressful on moving day.
*Aging with Grace offers transition services to help with the various tasks leading up to a move in, such as paperwork, labeling and packing. We can also run errands for those forgotten items on move-in day!