Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Transitions: making the move

You’ve finally reached the point and the decision: you’re going to help your mom, dad or other family member move from home to a care community. What should you expect? What can you do to make the transition better for both of you?

Make the move easy. When you’re planning moving day, make sure you consider how to make the move as quick and easy as possible.
* Enlist the help of every family member possible.
* Offer your loved one an option – their choice – of staying while you move their belongings or going to lunch or for a ride, while other members of the family make the move.
* Minimize the amount of things moved. Many older people enjoy the process, once the decision has been made, of gifting their items to various family members, reflecting on the items heritage or meaning during the process. Ask your loved one to select just those things he needs for basic comfort and then either store or get rid of the rest. Most moves entail downsizing significantly, so start that process off right by not bringing too much in the first place. Besides, a less crowded space feels bigger.
* Move as quickly as possible, and then relax a bit with your loved one. Allow time in your moving day schedule for a dinner together, a drink or light meal at the end of the moving day. This is a chance to focus on the relationship, not just the task of moving. That’s important on moving day.
* Leave. There will come that moment when the work’s essentially done, you’ve relaxed and chatted a few minutes, and there’s not much more to be done. You may have that feeling like you’re leaving your child at daycare for the first time in the pit of your stomach, but you need to make your exit. You need to give your loved one time and space to begin his own journey of adjustment.

Visit. Some care communities may advise you not to visit for the first few days or even weeks. Unless this is a firm requirement, smile, nod, and plan your next visit. It’s important to your loved one to know that you haven’t done the much feared “dumped at a nursing home” maneuver. Your regular visits will reassure your loved one that you’re still going to be involved, even though his physical residence has moved. Make an effort to make your visits about the relationship, too, not just tasks. Moving your loved one to a care community can relieve you of many tasks; it will never take the place of your relationship, however. Focus on your relationship by:
* Bringing in picture of your children or other family members
* Sharing meals together when you visit
* Taking walks together or taking your loved one for a drive in the countryside
* Talking about your regular daily life and routine
* Encouraging other family members, especially youngsters, to visit regularly, too.

Get acquainted. On your visits, try to get acquainted with the staff at the new community. Meet the front desk people and the manager, the dining room staff and the housekeepers. Introduce yourself, smile and thank them for their work. You’ll gain the trust and respect of important people involved in the welfare of your loved one; you’ll also know who to turn to if something goes wrong. You may want to get acquainted with other residents and their families as well, a step that frequently speeds the settling in process.

Be patient. It takes time for a person to adjust to a move. Some people will adjust quickly; others will still be adjusting several years after the move. Be patient, and let your loved one adjust at his own pace. Complaints may be frequent initially, especially about food. Listen, sympathize, but don’t rush to the manager demanding changes unless you witness the problems yourself, too. Be patient with staff, too, especially in new communities. It takes time for everyone to learn their jobs and to do them flawlessly. Expect some level of human error - housekeeping that miss a garbage can, for example, or soup served a little cool, but expect excellence in any personal care or services that are delivered. If the community laundry is cleaning your loved one’s clothes, expect that some items will go missing, and other items might get shrunk or bleached. Keep your loved one’s irreplaceable clothes or jewelry at your house, or launder them yourself (be sure to let the staff know).

Tune in to your own reactions. Be aware of those moments when you feel a wave of sadness wash over you for the losses your loved one has experienced. Feelings of sadness and guilt are normal, common reactions. You might think, “I should have cared for her myself,” but don’t let these feeling drive you to actions that make matters worse. Often, family members who are racked with guilt turn their feeling toward those providing the care, relentlessly finding fault, blame or error. If you find yourself complaining on every single visit, check in with your own feelings to see if you may be turning your own feelings of guilt or anxiety toward the people caring for your loved one. If you think you might be feeling more than the usual level of sadness or guilt, get help. Find a counselor, pastor or good, patient friend to listen and help you work through your emotions.

Many people find moving to a care community one of the most difficult tasks they do as caring family members. But most find that they’re happier, healthier and better off because of the choice, often sooner than they would ever have expected. It just takes a little effort on your part to make the transition.

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