Whether you are the wife or husband of someone who will be downsizing to assisted living, or you are an adult child helping a parent, you can play a significant role in making the transition a smooth one.
Feelings and emotions will most likely arise as you go through the process. That’s okay, considering that downsizing to assisted living represents a major change in family dynamics. But it also can open the door to new possibilities for lifelong wellness for your loved one and peace of mind for you and your family.
Taking the time to listen, developing a plan, and remembering what really makes a home is important.
As an adult child: Be a source of comfort. You’ll want to support your parent as they face this change in their relationship. It’s likely your mom or dad will have some guilt and anxiety about their life partner moving out of the home. By listening and being present, you can relieve some of the worry and be a shoulder to lean on—as well as offer some practical advice on downsizing to assisted living that will ease the move for everyone involved.
As a spouse: Reassure your spouse often that you will still be their husband or wife and very much part of their life. Let them express any fears or worries about downsizing to assisted living and listen closely. Remember, you are helping them create a new lifestyle designed for their safety and wellbeing, and you want it to feel like home. Your actions will speak louder than words, so be sure to spend extra time with them the first few days they are in their new home and then be a regular visitor for meals, activities, and events.
Downsizing to assisted living: 6 tips for spouses and adult children
- Take it slow. Once a decision has been made to move to assisted living, don’t get in a hurry to downsize in a day. Have some conversations with the person who will be moving about how nice it will be to live with less to worry about. Frame it all as a new beginning, a fresh start for a lifestyle filled with possibilities that is not weighed down by the baggage of the past.
- Have a plan. It doesn’t have to be rigid, just a way to start the process with small goals you can accomplish together each day. Involve your parent or spouse in the strategy. A room at a time? One closet a day? Maybe start in a garage or storage area where there’s more likely to be items that haven’t been used in years. Invite grandchildren to come by and help sort objects, and keep the mood upbeat. Don’t keep going if your loved one becomes tired or seems to be upset about the process. Tomorrow is another day.
- Help your loved one with sorting. Invite friends and family over so your loved one can feel comfortable sharing memories and stories when downsizing to assisted living. Again, don't expect to do it all in one day. Start with three piles: one for the things that mean the most, one for things that your loved one is ready to part with, and one is a “maybe” pile. Don’t worry about what’s in each pile yet. Just see it as an exercise in the early stages of letting go. Encourage family members to speak up if there’s something they’d like to have.
- Identify favorite items. Is it an easy chair? A quilt that’s been in the family for years? Maybe there’s a special bookshelf that someone carved, or a bedside table that has special memories tied to it. Reassure your loved one they can take it with them (after checking dimensions and floor space of new residence). If there are collections they must part with, take photographs so they can enjoy viewing them later. Perhaps a family member could temporarily keep the items. Remind your spouse it’s not so much the item, but the happiness they feel when they see it (even if it’s a photograph), that matters most.
- Encourage them to donate. It might be difficult for Mom to give away her best china, even after the grandchildren have said they aren’t interested. “Throwing it away” is not a pleasant thought when downsizing to assisted living. But instead, consider giving the china or treasured item to someone who otherwise might never have anything so nice. Your loved one might find pleasure in donating items to a charity, church or other organization. Heirlooms, fishing tackle, power tools, sewing machines and more—what brought your older adult joy once could do the same for someone new.
- Build excitement about the new home. Take breaks during the process and spend some time in the assisted living community where your spouse or parent will reside. Have lunch there. Talk with staff and caregivers so your loved one can become familiar with them. Drop in on an activity or event. Get a feel for everyday life. Be sure to get a copy of the floor plan of the new apartment and note wall space, window dimensions, and so on. This will help you decide in advance how your spouse or parent would like the room arranged.
At Clearwater Living®, we are committed to providing an exceptional assisted living experience for our residents, and peace of mind for their families. Our ongoing communication, collaboration, and transparency assures you that your loved one is well cared for, respected, and, perhaps most importantly, happy. Contact us to learn more.