Moving a parent, even voluntarily, into a nursing home is fraught with emotion. Your parents may mourn the loss of their younger years, their independence, the house they built. They may be afraid of aging, making new friends, finding their way in a new place. You can mourn all these things, too. You can question your decision. Did we act too fast? Overreact? Wait too long? And you will feel guilty. Guilt is inevitable. Know that all these feelings are normal and should not last forever. And remember these things when moving your parents into a retirement home.
It takes time
Senior life experts say that it usually takes three to six months for someone to adapt to life in retirement home. This is an average. It may be faster, it may take longer. Focus on the reasons for which you made the decision (safety, health, sanity).
Remembering the big picture, you can cope with difficulties of moving your parents into a retirement home.
Come over often or not for two weeks
Only you know your parents, so only you can decide on the best way to help them in the first weeks after the move. Many experts will tell you to visit as often as possible. Frequent visits can ease any stress your parents may have that they will be abandoned or alone. You can consider relocating with them to Hawaii to make the process easier. It may also be easier for them to meet people at events or in the dining room if they have a satellite with them. But if your parents call you several times a day, staying in their room and waiting until you show up, you may need to give them some space to encourage them to leave the house.
Expect failure when moving your parents into a retirement home
When you think that you have overcome the hump, and your parent has settled, everything can change. They will tell you that they are alone. They will decide that they do not like their new friends in the dining room. And they will ask to go home. These moments are heartbreaking, but knowing that they are normal and that they will pass can help you get through them.
Allow yourself to feel discomfort
Be aware that when your parents say that they want to go home, they do not necessarily mean their previous address. It’s incredibly hard to hear your parents say they want to go home. But know this: they may not refer to their previous address – especially if they have dementia. They may have in mind the home from their childhood. Home is both a place and a feeling. Sit with them and talk to them about what they are missing.
You cannot promise to change their situation, but you can hear them when they express their feelings. And it will help.
Recognize complex parts
Yes, you want to focus on the positive, but do not tell your parents about all the wonderful new events, people and opportunities. Listen to their fears and problems and recognize them. Then, help them get through it. They are more likely to listen to what you say, if they feel that you listened to what they had to say.
Surround your parents with their personal items
Moving your parents into a retirement home usually means downsizing. A dining room table with two sliding parts and a coordinating cell may not be suitable for a new apartment. But what is suitable are photos of family and friends, photo albums, favorite books, familiar works of art. If you need to reduce the size of the bedroom set, you can still bring a familiar blanket and pillows. The kitchen may be new, but you can pack your mother’s favorite tea cup. Leaving the house should not mean leaving behind all the memories.
Limit new things
You may be tempted to introduce your parents’ latest and best place hoping that they will love their new home. But limit the novelties. Moving your parents into a retirement home is the main device, where everything is new – people, food, routine. Do not overwhelm your parents with a new phone or TV remote control, or a trendy new coffee maker. Limit the number of new things they need to learn.
Create a team
The staff at the home for the elderly can and should be part of your team. Talk to them about your parents’ problems and help them actively with the transition. Do not think that they will notice what is happening – they are very busy. If your parent tells you that he is too shy to go to the dining room for dinner, or he forgets when some activity is scheduled, ask if the employee can knock on their door and invite them. There aren’t many things you’ll really need once you retire – but some care and extra attention can always come in handy.
If employees know what you need, they should be ready to help
Set your boundaries
Yes, you want to be a good son/daughter and ease moving your parents into a retirement home. But you also have needs. Try to have as much time as you can in the first few months after their residential move to help, but know that it is normal if you are not always available. Your children may need you. Your boss and customers may need you. And you need to take care of yourself. Determine what you can and want to do, and then stick to your boundaries. Other people will tell you what you should do. Ignore them. You are the judge – no one else.