Planning Ahead for the Transition into Assisted Living

Jacqueline Marcell Health Guide
  • Convincing elderly parents they need help in their home, or that they need to downsize into assisted living, can be a tough hurdle for families to overcome. The best way is to start the conversation early, before health is an issue. Getting your parents used to the idea by being part of the planning process will make it easier when the time comes.

    But what if you haven’t discussed it or haven't made plans for their transition into old age? If the time has come for your parents to alter their living situation because they can no longer take proper care of themselves, here are some important points to consider:
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    Think Safety First
    Keep in mind that your parents’ safety is the most important factor. If you know in your heart they cannot remain by themselves in their own home safely, don’t let your emotions override what needs to be done. Don’t wait for a broken hip, a car accident, medicine overdose, stroke, or that crisis call in the middle of the night before you step in.

    Recognize that when you were a child, your parents would have done everything in their power to keep you safe. Now, as hard as it is, you have to be the "parent" and make the best decisions possible for them. Ask their relatives, friends, doctors and healthcare professionals to help you by encouraging your parents to accept a caregiver in their home or to move to a facility–for their safety.

    Hire In-Home Caregivers
    Since most people would rather stay in their own home as long as possible, this is often the first step chosen. Families hire caregivers to come in for several hours a day and increase the time as care is needed. It is best to hire through an agency that does extensive background checks–and that can always supply an alternate caregiver if the regular one can’t make it. Ask for numerous references, and be sure to remove all valuables.

    Consider a Multi-Level Facility
    The benefit of a multi-level facility is that additional services can be added as your loved ones’ health declines. This prevents the turmoil of having to move again as more help and services are needed. Many seniors start out with their own private apartment and then progress through stages of assisted living and eventually to skilled nursing and dementia care, all within the same facility. Your parents may be able to bathe, dress, and take their own medications properly now, but as they need help, it’s a blessing to know that services can be added. Many times the friends they have made along the way progress right along with them, providing the comfort of familiar faces.

    Get References
    The best way to check out a facility is to talk to numerous families who already have a loved one living there. Drop in on weekends when more families visit and ask if they are happy with the accommodations, food, service, activities, cleanliness, reliability, personnel, etc. If they had it to do again, would they move their loved one there? What have they learned from the experience? What do they wish they had known when they were beginning the process?

  • Be sure to check out the kitchen for cleanliness and eat a meal there yourself. Also, ask the administrators if there are any liens or lawsuits filed against the facility. Ask to review their licensing and certification reports. If they will not put in writing that there are no legal problems, keep looking! Also, be sure to check with your local Area Agency on Aging and their long-term care Ombudsman who monitors the area. That person is the consumer’s advocate, letting you know if the location you are considering is a good choice.
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    Ask About Activities

    Adult children are often filled with guilt about moving their parents out of their own home, that is, until they see them flourishing in a new environment and participating in activities they haven’t enjoyed for years. Speak with the Activity Director to make sure there are numerous activity options. Does the facility offer field trips, games, crafts, singing, dancing, gardening, cooking, bingo, exercising, movies, interaction with animals, etc.? Be sure to monitor the Director regularly to make sure activities are being offered.

    Create a Relationship
    Once you have picked out the right place, ask the administrators for their help in convincing your loved one to move. They are very familiar with this problem and deal with it daily. Ask an administrator to call your parent and develop a relationship over the phone. He or she may be able to drop by (while you just happen to be there) to talk to your parents and invite them for a get-together. A few days later, take your parents out to lunch and then casually stop by the facility to say hello to that lovely person who was so kind to drop by to visit them. Seeing a familiar face is usually very helpful. Remember, any kind of change can be very scary for an elder. Take things slow, planting the idea calm and steady, making their safety your goal.

    Create a Need
    Another idea is to have a social worker ask for your loved one’s "help" with the other seniors at the facility. Could they, for example, go over there a couple times a week to help out with the bingo, crafts, or singing classes? Perhaps they can help prepare lunch for the elders there. Tell your loved one that they are "needed" there to help and entertain the other seniors. Giving them a "job" to do will help them become comfortable with being there. They will make friends, which can ease the transition to eventually moving there.

    Reach for Support
    Realize that everyone since the beginning of time, who has been lucky enough to have their parents reach old age, has experienced the pain of watching their once-competent loved ones decline and pass away. We all know it is a sad part of life, but even with all that’s been written, there are no words that can prepare us for the sorrow. Reach out for help from family and friends and get into a support group right away–don’t even think you can do it alone.

    You can learn more about Jacqueline and find information about her book at
Published On: September 01, 2006