Transitioning From Independent to Assisted Living

I’ve often considered changing my title from death doula to transition doula. This is because I have had many clients, nowhere near the end of their lives, but instead transitioning from independent to assisted living.

And that’s a death of sorts.

It’s certainly the death of someone’s independent self. Unfortunately, many assisted living facilities lack staff members with the time, training, or ability to support residents in this phase of life. As a result, the resident acts out and then leaves for another living arrangement.

This further disrupts the resident’s life and costs the facility a client. It doesn’t have to be that way. While people transitioning from independent living to assisted living can be a challenging and emotionally charged process, doulas like me routinely assist with this transition.

How To Help Aging Adults Transition

Imagine living independently for most of your life and the resulting shock of having to give that up. Most of my clients mourn the loss of their independence and feel pressure to quickly stop grieving, accept what’s happening, and adapt to a new life.

That’s a lot. And the expectation that this can happen quickly leaves the client, loved ones, and facility staff feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Working through this process takes time, patience, and empathy.

Here are some ways I’ve helped clients do that effectively.

Open Communication

If someone is starting to require assistance with day-to-day living, begin the conversation slowly. I usually facilitate open and honest conversations, or tender talks, with the person who is transitioning. We must understand their concerns, preferences, and expectations.

You should try to involve other loved ones, family members, and close friends in these discussions to ensure a collective and supportive approach.

Research and Plan

As someone comes to slowly accept this new reality, I typically suggest researching different assisted living facilities. We call or visit their websites. Vetting at least four or five makes it easier to find one that meets my client’s needs, preferences, and budget.

We create a checklist of important features and services. This includes factors like location, healthcare services, social activities, and cost. Research each place thoroughly. What kind of food do they serve? For example, a kosher diet may be necessary for some and unacceptable to others.

How restrictive are they? I have a client who lived alone for over 60 years and didn’t want facility staff members telling her when to go to bed and when to wake up.

These are just some of the many factors you’ll want to take into consideration.

Visit Facilities

Once we narrow it down to 1-3 finalists, my client and I schedule visits to potential assisted-living communities. This allows us to see the properties firsthand and get a feel for the environment. If possible, we request a tour of the living quarters and eat a meal in the dining area.

We continue to ask questions as they arise.

Does the facility have memory care? Sometimes my elderly clients experience the beginning stages of dementia and want some options a year or two down the road. You might also want to ask if they have physicians, salons, exercise rooms, and rehabilitation quarters. Take a look at their activities calendar to make sure they schedule events that seem engaging, inclusive, and fun!

Legal and Financial Considerations

Consult with an elder attorney or financial advisor to discuss the legal and financial aspects of the transition. This may include issues such as choosing a health care proxy, estate planning, and budgeting for assisted living expenses.

Downsizing and Organizing

I often help my clients downsize their belongings and decide what to bring to their new residences. You can also hire professional organizers to declutter your home and make the transition to a smaller residence that much easier.

It’s hard to part with items that have sentimental value. Transitioning adults need time to process the loss of precious items they’re either throwing away or donating. Sometimes giving items to family members or a cherished organization can soften the blow.

We typically spend a few weeks or months organizing and labeling items to make the move smoother and less stressful. That’s why taking our time and doing this slowly, before it’s an urgent need, is so helpful when transitioning from independent to assisted living.

Emotional Support

This is vital. Death doulas, loved ones, and other family members must offer emotional support throughout the process. This transition can be emotionally taxing for both the person transitioning and their inner circle. Don’t rush this part of the process.

Encourage the person to talk about their feelings and provide reassurance. Allow them the time and space to mourn the loss of their independence. Listen without judgment and fight the urge to fix this.

I encourage my clients with this mantra: Trust yourself. Let go. Be open.

That is: Trust yourself that you have what it takes to get through anything, including these challenges. Let go of how it’s supposed to be, how it used to be, etc. Let go of all attachments to the past and expectations for the future. Be open to whatever is supposed to happen.

This isn’t easy, it takes work and practice.

Coordinate the Move

I often help my clients with the logistics of the move itself. This includes packing, hiring movers, and coordinating how everything will get to the assisted living facility.

Make the New Place Feel Like Home

Once my client has moved in, we personalize their new living space. I’m no interior decorator, but we keep it simple by framing cherished pictures that evoke happy memories. Then we hang them up on walls or put the frames on coffee tables and dressers.

We do the same with artwork and other meaningful possessions.

I arrange their furniture in pleasing ways and stage belongings in a way that feels comfortable and familiar. Sometimes we bring in plants, flowers, candles, or essential oil diffusers. The goal is to create a space that feels like home.

Connect with the Community

I encourage my clients to engage in the activities and social events offered at the assisted living facility. This helps them build a sense of community and create a support system.

Regular Visits

Family members and other loved ones should continue to visit and spend time with the person in their new living situation. This helps loved ones to maintain a strong emotional connection and show ongoing support.

Show the facility’s staff that you’re staying informed about your person’s well-being, health, and any changes in their needs. Be prepared to advocate for them as necessary.

Professional Help

I have been supporting clients in this phase of life for a long time. Sometimes all they need is unconditional positive regard from an experienced doula. If the transition is particularly challenging due to health issues or emotional distress, sometimes it’s best to involve a licensed mental health counselor or therapist who specializes in elder care or grief counseling.

Contact me anytime for support or, if needed, referrals to counselors, movers, or organizers. Many ethical and empathetic professionals work in this space. You do not have to go through this alone.

Remember that transitions take time, and aging adults need patience and understanding as they adapt to new living situations. Tailor your support to their individual needs and preferences. This makes transitioning from independent to assisted living as smooth as possible.

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