Transition to Assisted Living: A Caregiver’s Guide

Victoria Burke by Victoria Burke | Licensed since 2011
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This article was updated on: 09/10/2018

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If you’re caring for an older adult or aging parent, there may come a time when you’re no longer able to provide the support your loved one needs to live independently. The transition to assisted living can be difficult for everyone involved, even if there is broad agreement with the decision that care at home is no longer possible.

If you are helping a loved one make the move, here are some tips from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) to make the transition to assisted living less stressful for both of you.

What is the difference between an assisted living facility and a nursing home?

Unlike a nursing home, which often provides full-time, 24/7 care, an assisted living facility is for someone who can still live independently, but may need some help with daily living tasks. Living areas are usually individual units in a shared complex of apartments, and residents may share meals together in a common dining area.

These facilities may provide a range of services and each assisted living center may offer different levels of care, including:

  • Meals
  • Transportation to doctor appointments
  • On-site medical services
  • Personal care services, such as help with getting dressed or bathing
  • Help with taking medications
  • Recreational or social activities

How do I choose an assisted living facility?

If you and your loved one have agreed that an assisted living facility would be a good fit, you may not know how to go about finding one. Here are some factors you might consider as you search for an assisted living facility:

  • Does the staff have specific training related to your loved one’s condition? For Alzheimer’s patients, for example, look for a facility that specializes in dementia care.
  • Is the facility located in a place that makes it convenient for you to visit on a schedule that works for you and your loved one?
  • Will the assisted living facility meet your loved one’s medical, emotional, and social needs?
  • What kind of medical assistance is provided? How will the facility staff members coordinate with your loved one’s doctor and health-care team?
  • What kind of amenities are provided? Does the facility include meals? Are there recreational or social activities available?

Remember, it’s always a good idea to visit the assisted living facility in person, if possible. This will give you an opportunity to meet the staff and ask any questions you may have in person.

If your loved one needs more full-time support, you might consider other long-term care options. The Medicare.gov website has a Nursing Home Compare tool that helps you find nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in your location. Each facility is given a rating based on staff levels, health inspections, as well as overall quality. You can even filter your search to find facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid.

How do I prepare for moving day into the assisted living facility?

Even if all parties are in agreement, the actual move can be emotionally difficult. The AFA offers a few suggestions to help your loved one mentally prepare for the transition to an assisted living facility.

  • Give your loved one plenty of time to talk to you about his or her emotions surrounding the move. Be understanding of feelings of sadness or fear and provide reassurance. Share your planned visitation schedule so your loved one knows that you will be there on a regular basis.
  • Take time to prepare the new room in advance of your loved one’s arrival. Arrange familiar items in a way that recreates a favorite space in the home. Don’t forget to label all of the clothes and personal belongings you bring to the assisted living facility.
  • Plan to spend moving day with your loved one to help him or her get adjusted. If you can, stay and have dinner together before you leave to ease the transition.

What should I do on moving day to help the transition to assisted living?

Your loved one will likely have many different emotions on moving day and may feel overwhelmed and confused. He or she may even take cues from your emotional state during the process, according to the AFA. Be calm and reassuring and let your loved one share his or her fears and concerns. Remember, it may take a few days or weeks for complete adjustment.

Here are some suggestions for helping your loved one transition to the assisted living facility:

  • Introduce your loved one to the staff at the assisted living center and ask if they might give your family member a little extra attention and kindness during the first few days.
  • Request that each shift introduce your loved one to the staff member who will be caring for them during the next shift. Make sure your family member understands how to contact staff if needed.
  • Share any special information you want the staff to know that may help them better care for your loved one, including personal preferences or favorite hobbies or activities. Provide as much input or guidance as needed so your loved one will feel at home.
  • Plan to visit a bit more frequently the first few days and weeks if possible; if you are unable to visit, check in regularly by phone with the staff and your loved one.
  • Don’t forget to care for yourself and your own emotional needs during this time of transition to assisted living. Call on friends and family members or look for a support group for others in your situation. You can better advocate for your loved one when you feel positive and your own needs are being met.

Please note that if your loved one has Medicare, he or she will continue to have access to the same hospital and medical care even after moving into the assisted living facility; I can help you understand how this works and what the coverage options may be. To request an email with information about Medicare or to schedule a phone call at your convenience, click one of the links below. You can also click the Compare Plans button to see a list of plan options in your area.

For more information on assisted living:

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, “Easing the Transition to Residential Care Settings,” http://www.alzfdn.org/EducationandCare/transitioning.html

Medicare.gov, “Your Guide to Choosing a Nursing Home or Other Long-Term Care,” https://www.medicare.gov/Pubs/pdf/02174-Nursing-Home-Other-Long-Term-Services.pdf

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