When I moved to a new state for the first time, all my necessary possessions fit in the back of my Ford Taurus. A year later, moving back to my home state, I filled both the Taurus and my parents’ Isuzu Trooper. I insisted on bringing back my mattress, which I had deemed to be the most comfortable bed I’d ever had, despite the fact that we had to stop once an hour or so to redo the bindings strapping it to the top of the SUV. That beloved mattress lengthened an already long and trying three-day drive, and by the time we arrived at our destination, I barely had the energy to get it off the top of the car before I collapsed with exhaustion.
We can accumulate things quickly, and it can be a challenge to let them go, especially if they hold a sentimental meaning, or if we feel we cannot do without them. And when someone has had a lifetime to accumulate things, picturing him- or herself in a new, more compact space like an Assisted Living apartment may be difficult. Though some residents may have no problem contemplating a move, others may experience anxiety and worry at the thought. But downsizing can be a positive experience for future residents and family members, leading to a friendlier, more livable space and a calmer state of mind.
Scott Evans, executive director of San Carlos Elms, can tell during community tours which potential residents are overwhelmed by the thought of downsizing. He says, “It seems to be more apparent if touring our community is their first exposure to Assisted Living. For residents, moving to an apartment that is so much smaller than their home can trigger questions like ‘What to bring? What to do with things I cannot bring? Who is going to help? Am I going to like living here?’”
Evans continues, “Often, family can help in the selection of what to bring and assist in what to do with what is left. As a community, we are sure not to put undue stress on the family, make ourselves available, help with move-in paperwork, and not place expectations or rigid time lines. For residents that do not have family to help, we are able to refer to a senior relocation specialist, and in some cases, we have actually gone to the resident’s home and assisted when the use of a relocation specialist was not feasible.”
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Focusing on social support is also a tactic utilized at San Carlos Elms. Scott Evans says, “Exposing the resident to the community as much as possible before move-in day is helpful; having them join in social events, meals with residents…facilitating an exchange with other residents who have gone through the process” of moving to the community can all ease the transition.
“Once the resident has arrived,” he continues, “all managers take a few moments to visit the resident and see how they are doing. We also schedule visits from our Welcome Committee who invite them to activities and meals and offer to go with them.” By placing the focus on social events rather than the daunting task of the move itself, Assisted Living communities can help the resident settle in much more quickly.
And everyone can be a part of the welcoming committee, according to Betsy Smith, executive director at The Gables of Ojai. “Our teams use what we’ve learned about our new residents to customize our offerings. For example, Leila will think of likely tablemates in the dining room when she learns where a person grew up or anything she or he may have in common with our other residents. David will have an idea which activities to personally invite them to.”
She says that the head of housekeeping will bring a card to each new resident, and the team members at the front desk are there to answer any questions. “And our maintenance department helps the new residents feel welcome, chatting and visiting while they hang pictures, hook up televisions, and make the apartment into their new home.” This type of emotional support provided by Assisted Living team members is just as important as physical help.
Smith says that it’s important to offer help and support to family members as well. “We email the activity calendar to interested family members, to support their loved ones in their interests. Occasionally, a resident brings too much stuff for the new apartment. We work with the family to cull excess, encouraging safety first. Mostly,” she says, “we listen to the residents and their families, and we encourage communication with the family throughout the process.”
Moving can be a stressful, anxiety-inducing process at any age. And, when faced with the task of downsizing a lifetime of accumulated things, some residents and family members can have a hard time knowing how to start. By offering them the support they need, whether it be access to a senior relocation specialist, an extra set of hands on moving day, or the advice of a resident who’s been through the process, Assisted Living communities can help make downsizing and moving a positive process which results in a calm, pleasing, and happy new home.