Moving a Parent to Assisted Living: 12 Strategies to Ease the Transition

Moving a parent, even a willing one, into assisted living, or any senior living facility, is fraught with emotion. Your parents may mourn the loss of their younger years, their independence, the home they built. They could be scared about aging, making new friends, finding their way in a new place.

You may be mourning all of those things too. You may second-guess your decision. Did we act too quickly? Overreact? Wait too long? And you will feel guilt. Guilt is inevitable. Know that all of these feelings are normal and don’t need to last forever. And keep these 12 strategies in mind as you make the transition:

  1. Give it time. Senior living experts say it typically takes between three and six months for someone to adjust to assisted living. That’s an average. It might be quicker; it may take longer. Stay focused on the reasons you made the decision (safety, health, security, sanity). Keeping the big picture in mind will help you through the rough patches.
  2. Visit often, or not for two weeks. Only you know your parent, so only you can decide how best to assist them through the early weeks of the move. Many experts will tell you to visit as often as possible. Frequent visits can ease any stress your parent may have that they will be abandoned or lonely. It might be easier for them to meet people at activities or in the dining room if they have a companion with them. But if your parent is calling you several times a day, staying in their room, and waiting for you to show up and keep them company, you may need to give them some space in order to encourage them to branch out. When I went to college my parents wouldn’t let me come home to visit for the first few weeks. By forcing me to stay at school on the weekends, they forced me to make friends. Tough love – it can work both ways.
  3. It takes a village. Mobilize yours. When we first moved my mother into assisted living, my sisters and I could not visit for a week or two. We had been staying with her before the move and needed to get back to work. Plus, our father was in the hospital. So I called my relatives and asked them to visit in our absence. Just as parenting takes a village, so does daughtering.
  4. Expect setbacks. Just when you think you are over the hump and your parent is settling in, things will change. They will tell you they are lonely. They will decide they don’t like their new dining hall friends. They will ask to go home. These moments are heart wrenching but knowing that they are normal and that they will pass, can help get you through them.
  5. Allow yourself to feel discomfort. Speaking of home, know that when your parent says they want to go home, they may not necessarily mean their last address. It’s incredibly difficult to hear your parent say they want to go home. But know this: they may not be referring to their last address – especially if they have dementia; they may be referring to a childhood home. Home is both a place and a feeling. Sit with them in the discomfort of that statement and talk to them about what they miss. You can’t promise to change their situation, but you can hear them as they express their feelings. And that will help.
  6. Acknowledge the difficult parts. Yes you want to paint the new move in a positive light, but don’t talk at your parents about all the wonderful new activities and people and opportunities. Listen to their fears and concerns and acknowledge them. Then help them get through it. They will be more likely to listen to what you have to say if they feel like you’ve listened to what they had to say.
  7. Surround your parent with their personal belongings. Moving to assisted living usually means downsizing. The dining room table with two extension leaves and coordinating hutch may not fit in the new apartment. But what does fit, are photographs of family and friends, photo albums, favorite books, a familiar piece of artwork. If you need to downsize 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 teacup. Leaving a home shouldn’t mean leaving behind the comforts of that home.
  8. Limit new things. You may be tempted to furnish your parent’s new place with the latest and greatest in hopes they love their fancy new home. But limit new items. Moving into an assisted living facility is a major adjustment where everything is new – the people, the food, the routines. Don’t overwhelm your parents with a new phone or remote control for the television, or a fancy new coffee maker. Limit the amount of new things they need to learn.
  9. Be your parent’s advocate. No place is perfect. You and your parents may see opportunities to improve something at their new home but your parent may hesitate to speak up when they move to a new place. Do it for them. My father, who worked nights his entire adult life, likes to sit outside on a balcony until almost midnight. When he first moved in, the staff would tell him he needed to be inside by 8 p.m. I asked management if there was any reason he couldn’t be on the balcony after 8, and there wasn’t. The staff just wasn’t used to seeing the residents out of their rooms after 8:30 at night. So management let the staff know that my father could stay outside as late as he wanted– and he does.
  10. Build a team. The staff at assisted living can and should be a part of your team. Talk to them about your concerns and your parent’s concerns and actively enroll them in helping with the transition. Don’t assume they will notice what needs to happen – they are very busy. If your parent tells you they are too shy to go to the dining hall for dinner, or they forget when activities are happening, ask if a staff member can knock on their door and invite them. If the staff members know what you need, they should be willing to help out.
  11. Set your boundaries. Yes, you want to be a good daughter and ease your parent’s transition. But you have needs too. Try to free up as much times as you can in the first few months after the move to help, but know that it is okay if you are not always available. Your kids may need you. Your boss and clients may need you. And you need to take care of yourself. Determine what you are able and willing 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.
  12. Daughter knows best. Remember the television show and saying, “Father Knows Best.” Well this time, daughter, you know best. The experts may tell you to stay away or visit often. They may tell you to dismiss complaints as normal. But you know your parent best. Trust your instincts. I was told my father had to spend the rest of his life in a locked memory unit. When I expressed doubt about that decision, doctors and social workers dismissed me as a daughter in denial. But I persisted and my father now lives in his own apartment in an assisted living facility with minimal support.

38 thoughts on “Moving a Parent to Assisted Living: 12 Strategies to Ease the Transition”

  1. I had no idea that you should limit the amount of new items. When we moved my grandpa, he was telling us how he wanted to have furniture from his old bedroom, and we took a few things. I think that since this is a big change itself, it helps them to have some familiar pieces from their old house.

  2. I like that you point out that a lot of people can be and should be involved when helping a parent adjust to living in an assisted living facility. I can see why it would be important to help them feel comfortable and at peace while there. My grandparents are both over 90-years-old. They have been doing well so far, but they might need to go live in an assisted living facility pretty soon here. I’ll definitely keep this in mind when that time comes.

  3. I appreciate the tips on how to make moving into assisted living easier. I agree that it is hard for people to adjust to a different living situation, especially people who have been independent for a long time and now have to rely on others. My mom is looking for an assisted living place for my grandpa, I will be sure to share this information with her.

  4. Seniors have valid reservations when moving to an assisted living facility. It’s understandable because leaving your home and your loved ones can evoke fear. The transition is really going to be hard especially those who are too emotional and think that moving into an assisted living facility means they will lose their independence, they will be lonely for the rest of their lives and they will no longer see their families again.

    These strategies can help debunk the myths of moving to a facility and can give them a peace of mind too. Thanks for sharing this awesome list, which can make the transition from home and facility much easier.

  5. I’ve been worried about how transitioning my mom to an assisted living center will go. In a lot of ways, she has been resisting the idea, but we know it is what is best for her and her health as well as the rest of our family. These tips will definitely help ease the process, though. I hadn’t thought about making sure to surround them with personal belongings and limiting the new things, but I think that will be a help. Thanks for sharing!

  6. This article is spot on when it talks about how it takes a while (up to 3-6 months according to this article) for older people to get used to assisted living facilities. I remember when we put my grandparents in assisted living that it took them a really long time. These are all great points about assisted living!

  7. I agree that the first couple weeks of transition to an assisted living center would be the most difficult part for your family members. Because they would have to get used to a new bed, house, and environment it could be stressful and quite difficult at first. However, once they realize that they are very taken care of they will be able to transition much more easily. I think that once they are fully transitioned they would love to have regular visits from their family members.

  8. I love your tips for moving a parent into assisted living. My dad needs help living, but he doesn’t want to move anywhere. I’ll make sure that plenty of his neighbors visit him, to make him feel like he’s still at home thought.

  9. It makes sense that it would regularly take somebody about three to six months to get used to an assisted living lifestyle. My grandparents currently require a lot of attention and care due to their illnesses. I feel like they would be much more comfortable in an assisted living home where they can live in a social environment.

  10. This is clearing a tough subject for anyone who is being forced to deal with this subject to talk about. This topic can be
    just as hard for the family member trying to help as for the elderly family members. I really appeciate how you wrote this article to flow easy
    and help make the process simple by outlining the basic steps to help people get started. Thanks! please keep up the good content.

  11. I am moving my mom to an assisted living from her apartment where she had a full time aide. She has dementia and her short term memory is gone. We are moving her in two months. When should we tell her she is moving? What should we tell her?

    1. Hi Jacki. If her short term memory is “gone” you will most likely need to tell her several times. Consult with her doctor/team if she has one and see what they say – also the assisted living might have suggestions too. Also, let your heart guide you. What do you think is the most compassionate approach? You want to balance surprising her and worrying her.

  12. Moved mom into Alf almost one week ago and she isn’t liking it
    She agreed at first because she wanted to make us kids happy but after a week there she wants to go home and the ability to smoke has been really hard on her. Any advice? She was down to 88lbs, not eating, house not being kept up and refused anyone to come in.
    She wasn’t safe. Any suggestions getting over the hump?

    1. Karla, I think your mom’s addiction to smoking plays a much bigger part in her unhappiness than anyone realizes. When I was a smoker if I would have been given the choice between a nice room in assisted living or smoking, I would have rather lived in a cornfield than give up my cigarettes. If she is not allowed to smoke anywhere outside please look into e-cigarettes for her. They are clean, don’t have an odor, easy to use and provide nicotine which should satisfy her cravings and make her much happier. I know this will probably be an unpopular viewpoint with some people but if you’ve never been addicted, it’s almost impossible to understand.

  13. I am thankful that my Mom is willing and ready to move into a senior apartment facility. She’s going to move in a month. Because she has some short term memory issues and is leaving her single family home of 60+ years for a building with hallways that all look the same, I am concerned about her remembering where her apartment is. We will put something familiar on the front door but I don’t want her to have to wander the halls to find it.

    Has anyone seen a bracelet or lanyard that will help an older person remember where a new apartment is?

    1. My father wore his key on a lanyard bracelet with the apartment number written on a tag that hung like a charm.

  14. My male friend 67 was in secret from us, his friends for 12 years and had him living with us fortnightly for 3 to 4 days each time, his sister and sons put him in a locked high care dementia ward. He is not to this level yet. We attended all hospital meetings with his son who was not coping. I told him to call his brothers, aunties, uncle, family.. they came for final meeting with gerry doctor and ny husband and i were present at their request. Yet hospital staff even us walking in with both sons of our friend, asked me if i had permission from the family to come. I have left out much detail. They all our friends family meeting 4 family for the first time, thanked me for what i had done. More than they will ever know as friends and advocate. That was Thursday last week. We missed speaking to our friend on Thursday night. We called on Friday night. The hospital said he was not here for me to talk to. What i said. Staff lady said he has been discharged. I phoned both sons and sms and daughter in law. No response. So i called our friends sister. She was cold. Yet last thursday was singing her praises to me for what i did etc etc. Told me she had taken him to place today. For me to call his son and he can tell me where he is. Why is the family doing this? Why are they stopping us and other friends of Graham’s to know where he has moved and stopping us all continuing our friendship, to come and see him or call him? What can i/we do?

  15. We are moving my mother into an assisted living apartment, not willingly…… She is not safe to be at home alone. We have had several aids at her home, but they all quit……. She refuses to have someone 24 hours a day in her home and we all work…. I feel so guilty about putting her there, I’m an RN and feel like I should be able to take care of her at my home. I have a 2 story home and the steps are a concern….. This is heart wrenching to do this to her !

    1. Sorry you are going through so much worry and guilt. You are acting with courage and compassion to make sure your mother gets the care she deserves. Focus on that.

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