Representing not-for-profit, community-based senior care providers throughout Western New York.

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Making the Transition to A Nursing Home or Assisted Living

Moving a loved one to an assisted living facility or nursing home can be one of the most difficult decisions a family member will make.  Not only is this a challenging time for family, but it is very common during this stage for the individual to experience feelings of loss or grief.  

To ease into the transition from independent living to assisted living, it is important for the individual to have as much involvement in the decision and move as possible. For the loved one relocating into a facility, expressing their wishes and being involved may help ease the nursing home transition. 

“There is no greater gift you can give your loved one than to honor their wishes and to make sure they are carried out,” says Kelly Crisp and Sarah Labarbera, social workers at Beechwood Homes. It is important the individual feel their requests are respected, and this will in turn help them acclimate to life in their new home. 

Adjusting to a new environment can be a difficult process, but asking staff questions about the individual’s expected lifestyle at the facility will ease the stress of the unknown and give everyone an idea of what daily life will be like once the move has been made. Since people acclimate to a new environment at their own pace, asking questions and becoming familiar with the individual’s daily routine will aid the adjustment process. 

“The adjustment process can take time, so make sure to allow enough time for the individual to settle in,” says Megan Diehl of The Bristol Home. 

Often family members assume staying with their loved one as much as possible during the adjustment phase is a good idea.  However, this can hinder the adaptation process and prevent the individual from branching out and meeting new people. Give loved ones enough time to get to know staff members and other residents in the facility. 

Once the individual settles into their new home, it will be helpful to keep open lines of communication with nursing home staff. Routines and schedules may have been different at a rehabilitation facility or home, so make sure to ask staff about meal times, laundry and bathing days. It is important to inform staff of the individual’s personal preferences such as meal times and whether they prefer baths or showers. 

All facilities post lists of events as well as special meals and birthdays.  Make sure to ask staff where they post the calendar to help encourage your loved one to participate in these activities.  This can also be a useful conversation tool between you and your loved one to see what they are involved in and how well they are adjusting.

Personal items in the individual’s room can also help ease the transition by creating a more familiar home environment. Ask the facility’s staff members what items can be brought into the home and if permitted, bring the individual’s favorite chair, bookcase or painting to make their room feel more like home. Pictures can comfort the individual and help orient them to their new surroundings. 

“If your loved one is confused, pictures from their younger days may help them remember,” says Crisp and Labarbera.  “While your loved one may not remember what happens from one day to the next, they may still remember events from the past.” 

While creating a homey environment can be helpful, it is also important to speak with staff members to assure your loved one is taken care of. It will be valuable to know the facility staff and learn who the key players are.  

Often the best way to handle concerns that come up is by addressing them right away.  Talk to the unit nurse or social worker; do not ignore an issue or problem. Communicate with key staff about your loved one and let them get to know you. Meeting with employees prior to the move will help the staff become familiar with you and your loved one and will allow staff to better meet the individual’s needs. 

Proper preparation for the transition is essential and alleviates stress and anxiety from the individual. Before moving, you or your loved one should choose at least seven days of clothes to pack.  Keep comfort, maintenance and appropriateness in mind. Items that are tight or may shrink when laundered should not be taken. 

Also when packing, make sure to label everything, especially articles of clothing.  The facility may have guidelines on how and what items specifically to label.  In addition, this will save money from having to replace lost or misplaced items.  

Finally, how to handle the finances of an assisted living or nursing home facility will be a vital discussion to have with your loved one. It is crucial to understand insurances, finances and legal issues.  The individual may need to apply for Medicaid since Medicare and most private insurance companies do not pay for long-term nursing home care. This process may take several weeks and planning ahead of time is critical. 

“Navigating through the financial aspects can be tricky,” says Crisp and Labarbera.  “Seek assistance when you need it from a key player in the finance department, or with your attorney.

“If you are designated as power of attorney and the individual needs your help in maintaining paperwork, purchase a binder to keep records and notes.  If there is a long-term care insurance policy, this may be the time to put in a claim.  Legal Services for the Elderly is also available to assist with finances.  

The transition to a nursing home can be a difficult and uncomfortable process, but remember to carefully plan beforehand to help ease the move.  Being active in the process but also allowing your loved one to participate will help them feel prepared for the transition into an assisted living or nursing home facility. Always remember it is not the quantity of days that matters, but rather the quality of life.