When my elderly parents, both in their 90s, moved into an assisted living community, the decision process and the move itself were arduous.
In their nineties and married for nearly 70 years, they needed more support, although they did not see it that way. It was common for me to discover medicines not taken, mail not opened, or scheduled appointments forgotten. As their adult daughter, I was also concerned that they were not eating well when they needed to prepare their own meals. Traveling longer distances with their walkers around the community was challenging. Weakening memories complicated many situations.
When their retirement community offered a small assisted apartment located close to many of the activities that Mom and Dad already participated in and liked, we decided it was time for a change. We were fortunate that my parents moved only from the fourth floor to the first and down a long hallway, so much about their new living environment was familiar. Meals were provided in a smaller dining room, but they still had the freedom to go to other parts of the community for meals, a cup of coffee, or various activities.
Unfortunately, they had thought that they were doing just fine and did not need to move, and they loved their apartment and much of their furniture. Nevertheless, their original plan of aging in place had become less and less of an option. Their priority of staying together was more important to them than aging in place.
Five Observations from the Transition to Assisted Living
- Disorientation is real, especially when settling unenthusiastic older elders into a new living situation. The disorientation may take several weeks, or longer, to go away, and initially feel like the individual has experienced sudden and additional memory loss.
- Location plays a big role in a person’s skills. Some activities that my parents could do in their old apartment were closely tied to location. For instance, they could use their computer in the old apartment, but when they moved, placed in a new corner it seemed so different and unfamiliar that they could not get started. The same thing happened with their phones. Only some of these situations could be fixed.
- The medication aides in my parents’ assisted living community are amazing. They show up each morning, afternoon, or evening and give my parents their meds while making great conversation and with no medical fuss.
- Space is a big concern. Ideally my parents would have benefitted from a bit more space than they now have in their two-room apartment. Although I had found a lovely three-room assisted living apartment in another location, my parents would have needed to leave their retirement community where all the people and places were familiar. As more couples live longer together, assisted living communities need to recognize that twosomes will need some apartments with a bit more space. Even in a 70-year marriage, individuals need to be able, at times, to be out-of sight of one another.
- While there are options to assist in moving an elder such as geriatric case managers and senior moving assistants, my parents were not open to other strangers coming into the process. As much stress as it caused for me and my husband, it adding additional individuals into the mix would have made things worse.