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.

You might also like:  How to Initiate Difficult Conversations With Your Aging Parents

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64 comments on “Moving a Parent to Assisted Living: 12 Strategies to Ease the Transition”

  1. Gregory Willard Reply

    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. Emily Stone Reply

    This is an extremely helpful post, I found surrounding my parent with their personal belongings really helped the transition, in particular family pictures.

  3. Scott Reply

    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.

  4. Ben Allen Reply

    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.

  5. Samantha Stein Reply

    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.

  6. Annika Larson Reply

    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!

  7. Jay Jorgenson Reply

    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!

  8. Dave Anderson Reply

    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.

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  10. Ridley Fitzgerald Reply

    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.

  11. Chris Winters Reply

    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.

  12. Jill Hill Reply

    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.

    • Tam Reply

      I agree. I came to the realization that we need to move my mother from the independent side to the assisted side of her adult community a few weeks ago. I cannot sleep, knowing she will not be happy about the restrictions and chance, but I know it is best for her well-being and mine. She was picking up other people’s pull boxes and adding them to hers, unwittingly, and doesn’t remember it all. As much as I know it has to happen soon, I am on an emotional roller coaster. The doctors have reminded me that “ You wouldn’t let your toddler run with scissors even if the toddler got upset when you took them away.” Because of her dementia, there is no way to reason with her, so I am doing my best to be patient, reflect her feelings, and remind her that I am not going to let any happen to her.

      • admin Reply

        Act with equal parts compassion and courage – compassion for your mother’s feelings and situation and courage to do what needs to be done even though it’s as hard as hell. SOunds like you already are. Good luck with the transition.

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  17. Jacki Reply

    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?

    • admin Reply

      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.

  18. Karla Reply

    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?

    • admin Reply

      Give it time. Work with the staff and make sure they are encouraging her to participate. Good luck!

    • Lori MacPherson Reply

      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.

  19. Sandy Radeke Reply

    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?

    • admin Reply

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

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  21. amanda albury Reply

    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?

    • admin Reply

      Sorry to hear this. The best you can probably do is try to work with his family. Good luck.

  22. Carol Reply

    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 !

    • admin Reply

      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.

  23. joy butler Reply

    I have been trying to move my parents to an assisted living home for a while now. I think that it’s going to be a difficult transition. I really appreciated what you said about trusting yourself with the whole “Daughter knows best” mindset. I trust myself to make a great decision for them.

    • admin Reply

      Aim for equal parts compassion and courage in your decision making and you will be fine.

  24. Beth Havey Reply

    Today is my mom’s birthday. She died in 2013 after living in a Senior facility. Your post is great and covers everything so well. My mother did well, but there is no ideal place. You have to be vigilant. I had an independent caregiver that I hired to be with my mother when I could not. It worked so well. Wishing you the best and thanks for this post.

    • admin Reply

      Thank you Beth. And sorry for your loss. When we lose our mothers it always feels like just yesterday.

  25. Haralee Reply

    Great points! We endured many of the adjustment issues with my Mother. We were fortunate however because she chose where and when she wanted to be moved. Still it did take some of my cousins, her nieces and nephews to pick up the slack in visiting.

  26. Stephen A Bryson Reply

    This has been a great post, very helpful. I am not the daughter, I’m the son. My father passed away last week just as both my parents were to move into assistive care together, now my mom is moving into assistive care by herself.

    • admin Reply

      I am sorry for your loss. Best of luck with these new transitions for you and mother. Sons are 40 percent of all family caregivers – you are not alone.

  27. Kate Welling Reply

    You mentioned that we should be our parents advocate when bringing them to assisted living. I think it would be nice to do this so they feel not so alone. My mom is getting too hard for me to take care of, so I am going to look for a community near me to bring her to.

  28. Lola Reply

    I am getting ready to move my 95 year old mom into an independent senior
    Iiving facility so she is close to me in distance (I am in another state) and for safety reasons and she isn’t happy about it. She told me today that she doesn’t like being around old people. Hah! That struck me as funny but sad…

    • admin Reply

      Best of luck with the move. Hopefully your mother will meet some young people!

  29. Sandy Reply

    Great article, after about 8 years of home care we are moving mom in to Assisted Living. This article was exactly what I was looking for!!!

  30. Sandy Reply

    I am moving my aunt (who never married and has no children) into assisted living from her independent apt at an elderly living complex. Her short-term memory is gone and she is becoming very hateful and says very spiteful and hurtful things to me. I know this is quite stressful for her and I am trying to show no emotion about her comments. She has friends that are already in the assisted units and her new apartment is quite nice but is it normal for her to be so negative in the things she says. I’m sure she won’t remember saying them.

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  32. Bonnie Reply

    My 95 year old mother has been living with us for just over 3 years. She has moderate ALZ. I am also caring for our adult daughter who lives with Chronic Daily Migraine to the extent that she is bedridden. We just found out that our daughter has been accepted into a program specifically for migraine patients in another state. She is unable to travel alone. We don’t know how often or how long we will be gone for her treatments. I am probably going to have to put my mother into a memory care unit of an assisted living center. There is a brand new one near us and I have put a fully refundable deposit down. I have peace about this for one minutes and horrific guilt the next minute. I don’t know how to make this decision. I am worn out from care-giving. Exhausted and undone. I have loved ones telling me that I have done heroically taking care of both my mother and daughter and now we have to focus on our daughter. Then I look at my mother who is so weak and frail and wonder how I can do this to her.

    • admin Reply

      I am so sorry you are dealing with so much at once. Two feel torn between parent and child is a very tough place to be and when you are exhausted it is so hard to think straight. The decision to move a parent to a senior living will feel like a roller coaster. Your goal right now is to make sure that both mother and daughter get the care they need. Sometimes that will come from professionals a(the medical team treating your daughter and the memory care staff caring for your mother) and sometimes from you. Perhaps this article will help: https://www.workingdaughter.com/5-tips-for-choosing-how-to-spend-your-time-when-your-life-is-overloaded/

  33. Karin Gerschwiler Reply

    I am so scared to make this move for my mother but I do not feel she is safe to be in her home anymore. I work full time, have my own home , husband and a daughter beginning college. My only sibling lives 6 hrs away and is not very involved in Mom’s care. I handle her house, shopping, laundry, and her medical care/appointments for the last three years since a cancer diagnosis. My father passed away in Dec of 2017 and I handled all of his needs also.
    I am at my breaking point, I am physically and mentally exhausted.
    This weekend was the first time my brother had to deal with Mom at a bad time. He finally had a small taste of what I have been going through.
    I love my mother and want her to be safe and happy. I worry that when we get this move accomplished, she will be unhappy.
    My heart is breaking but I can’t do it anymore.

    • admin Reply

      I am sorry you are so overloaded. These moves often feel negative but do have positives – socialization, professional care, etc. Your mother may very well be unhappy at first. Who wouldn’t be? It’s a BIG move and adjustment. Give her time. Try to listen and support her without making it personal and about you. Equal parts courage and compassion…

  34. Nancy Reply

    Just moved my 97 year old Mom to assisted living this week – she said she wanted to go but then forgets and says why did you put me here – so it’s a very emotional rollercoaster and I don’t know how to best handle this. We have someone most every day visiting and the staff is very encouraging. I’m saying lots of prayers these days and lots of sleepless nights. I can only hope it gets better as time goes on – it’s just scary to think it could take many months – she might be fine – i might not survive! Has anyone experienced help with their elder parents in the form of an anxiety medication that might get them through or will that only add to the problem?

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  36. Brenda Reply

    Thank you for this article! I just moved my 69-year old mother with early stage dementia to assisted living this weekend. She’s been excited to go but now I can already see some of the obstacles that may arise. Definitely a journey for both of us to take.

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