Earlier in the month, Carl had helped his Dad move into the senior living community they had picked together after touring several. Dad was easy and was happy to search for the right place – Mom passed on about a year ago, and although Dad had kept up the place pretty well, the house felt awfully empty. Then at the end of the year, Dad had a stroke. He did all his physical therapy and came back quickly, but his balance was still a little off, and he needed help to get through his days.
Carl was worried when Dad first moved in that it would be difficult to make a big change and move to a new place, but Dad, as always, took it in stride with a smile and a good attitude. The whole process had been easy, even when they first started their search. Dad wanted to be close to the barn where he used to train horses, and they found a place that was close enough for him to go out there several times a week to watch the horses train.
Carl breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that everything was settled and he could stop worrying, but he started noticing little things. Dad never complained, and he has always had a healthy appetite, but sometimes he seemed distant, or he forgot things that he never forgot before. Sometimes Dad actually seemed cranky, and Carl could never remember a time when his Dad was irritable.
Moving is always a dramatic change, even when we’re excited and eager to go to a new place, and there are many reasons why moving can cause stress or anxiety. For many seniors, moving may be because a spouse is no longer there to help, or it may be because they see a decline in their memory or health. Add in all the packing, cleaning, house repair, and organization necessary to move and it’s no wonder moving is so stressful for seniors. If a senior is also struggling with memory loss or mental illness it can be even harder to get through the emotional stress of moving. Even for seniors without added mental health issues, there may be feelings of loss or failure as they leave behind a home they never intended to leave.
Much like post-partum depression in women, it is difficult to know how you or a loved one may feel about moving, but with the right attitude, you can improve any situation and find the right solution.
Watch for Symptoms
Be careful to watch for signs that your loved one is having a hard time after moving to a senior living community. If you notice depression, anxiety or forgetfulness, you are probably seeing symptoms of a problem. Physical symptoms can be telling as well, so be aware if your loved one refuses to eat or becomes inactive and withdrawn. Don’t be too quick to assume that a senior who has never shown signs of dementia has suddenly developed the disorder, and talk with the staff to understand what symptoms you are seeing.
Listen and Understand
It’s normal to want to tell a loved one “You worry too much! Just give it time and things will get better,” but this is dismissive and doesn’t let your loved one know that you want them to be happy and that you want to help. Stay positive and make it clear to them that you are concerned about them and interested in what is bothering them. Remind them that you only want to take action on their behalf and that you want to do what they want to do when they think it’s time for a change. Let them know that their feelings are normal and okay and that you will help them find a way to feel better.
Let Them Decide
We all want to know who is making decisions for us and be sure that those people will keep our best interests and our preferences at the forefront of a solution. Involve your loved one with every step of the move, treatment plans, or any relocation, and make sure they understand what is happening. Always tell them that you will support their decisions, whatever they may be, and keep them up to date about changes to living arrangements or daily routines by notifying them well ahead – surprises can be triggers for anxiety and stress.
Allow Feelings to Change
No one wants to admit that they’ve made a mistake – it’s even worse when you’ve gone to all the trouble of moving and realize that you hate where you are. While you may feel like saying “But you liked it so much when we moved in!”, it doesn’t help anyone to dwell on a bad decision. Instead you can help to create positive steps forward by encouraging your loved one to be honest. Be patient and tell your loved one that it’s okay to change their mind. Encourage them to share their worries with you, and make sure they know that it’s okay to be scared or confused – you want to help and knowing how they feel will make that easier.
Make the New Home Like the Old Home
Home is where the heart is – but what is it that makes a home a home? Most of us think of the things we’re used to when we think of home: our furniture and pictures and the little things we use to decorate. Bring as many things as you can from the original home and do your best to arrange the new rooms to look and feel like the rooms they spent most of their time in at the old home. It can be helpful to take photographs of the former home and use them as references to make sure things are as much like they were as possible. Even tiny details like the things your loved one keeps on their nightstand can be helpful when a loved one is adjusting to a new home.
Carl decided to talk to the staff at the senior living community to see if they had noticed any of the things he had been seeing, and they told Carl that Dad had been a little gloomy lately and kept saying that he thought his wife would have liked or hated this or that.
Carl started thinking and went to Dad to talk. “Dad, how are you feeling lately? Do you still want to stay here? You know the house hasn’t sold, we can talk about a different option if you want.”
Dad thought for a moment. “I’m okay, Carl. I get to see the ponies all the time – the little ones come up so quickly these days. But I miss your mom – she would have liked it here. And I feel like, oh, I don’t know, like I left her at the house.”
“I know what you mean,” said Carl. “I think she wants us to be happy, and we can bring her here in our hearts – you already are by thinking about her so much. And maybe we can drive by the house this weekend and you can look around and see if there is anything that can bring her here – maybe you can take a picture of the house and put it on the wall to keep her close.”
Dad brightened a little. “That’s a good idea son. Maybe if I can see the house every day it will be like she’s here. Good idea Carl.”