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Posted: January 31, 2005

Practical Caregiving

The Challenge of Moving to Assisted Living ?
and Remaining Happy

Cindy has a common question. Is it possible to move her mother into an assisted living facility and still have her mother be happy? With a little planning, it may be possible to help her mother adjust and end up happy. And for Cindy to be happy too!

Read on as I answer another caregiver question from my e-mailbag.


Dear Jean:

My father died a few years ago and Mom has been living alone since then. My uncle lives close to Mom and checks on her. A while back, he called and said she was having memory problems. He said I should go down there. I took time off from work and brought her back here.

She seemed fine while she was here so I took her back to her home. A couple weeks later I received a call that she had fallen, breaking her hip, and she had laid there for a few hours until my uncle checked on her. She went into the hospital, then to assisted recovery.

She has agreed to move here and enter an assisted living facility. I need to go through her house, have an auction and move her here. I?m an only child, but my own adult children might be able to help.

How can I move Mom so that she is happy in her new home?

Cindy L., Kansas City, Missouri

Dear Cindy:

First of all, I?m not sure you can make your mother completely happy in her new home. She will be leaving the home she lived in for many years, and there are a lot of wonderful memories there. She will be homesick. Anyone who has lived in a house for many years will miss that place when they move.

When an older person moves into an assisted living facility under your mother?s circumstances, they understand that they will never have the life they have been living, and they will have to depend on others for the rest of their life. I would expect that she realized her health was going downhill before she fell, but she didn?t want to face it. She didn?t want to get old and have her body give out. She wanted to be young enough to take care of herself completely until she died. It just didn?t turn out that way.

Talk with her about what she wants to take to her new home. Try to think of every aspect of a day in the life she will have at the assisted living facility. Does she have a working television? The meals are usually at a set time, so she will need a clock. She also can read ? does she have books to bring with her? She will need a calendar so she can write down special events like birthdays, holidays, etc. Keep her important list of telephone numbers, for close friends and family, close to the telephone. As you walk through her house, you might see other items that are precious to her. Take those also.

If your children can help, why don?t you have them leave a day early and take the items for her new home? If you don?t have a pickup or small truck, you will need to rent one. The day before she moves in, your children can put everything in her room. It will feel more comfortable to her from the start.

There are other things you can do to avoid problems later:

  • Ask for a copy of her medical records to take with you. You may need to pay a minimal charge for them, but most places will provide copies for free.
  • Ask for a copy of her will.
  • Have her sign the necessary papers for you to have durable power of attorney for all her finances and property.
  • Have her sign the necessary papers for you to have the durable power of attorney for her health care.
  • Have her sign a living will.

It is very important to have her sign all the papers necessary for you to make the decisions when she can?t. I couldn?t get my parents to sign the living will. The only reason the doctors and hospitals took my word on anything was that I lived with them. If I would have lived next door, or in some other home, I could not have had any say in what happened to their care. You don?t want to be in the position of not being able to make the decisions you know she wants.

After she is in her new home, visit her every day for a week or so. Try to help her meet new friends and learn the routine. Then you can cut back on visiting to a more reasonable schedule. From the start, try to avoid letting her control your life completely. She needs to develop friends, and if you are there all the time, she won?t do that.

She may start complaining when she has never complained about things in her life, but that is because she is probably homesick. She may come up with various things to try to get your attention, but if she really is sick (or whatever it is she says), you should visit her and help her. Otherwise, set up a schedule to visit her -- and stick to it.

You will need to do something about her house and the things there. Try to include her in as many decisions as possible. If it upsets her too much, just don?t talk about it.

One time Dad asked about his team of horses. I told him they were at his home. He hadn?t owned a team of horses for 60-70 years!

When Dad was home and couldn?t get out of bed, he asked about his boat in the back yard. About four months earlier my son asked if he could have the boat, and I gave it to him. A few years earlier, Dad had already told Eric that he could have the boat when he was finished with it, and Dad was finished with it. Dad was then 94, and the last time he wanted to go fishing he couldn?t even get into the boat by himself. There was no possibility that Dad would even get to the back yard again, let alone get in the boat. When he asked about the boat, I just told him it was sitting there and that it was fine. I know that wasn?t being completely honest, but there was no reason to upset Dad. At that stage of his life, there was no reason to upset him about anything.

Good luck, and please let me know how the transition works. If you have any more questions, please ask.

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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