From Home to Care Facility
Empathy from Caregivers Eases Transition for Loved Ones
Moving is one of life's most stressful events, right up there with a change of jobs or the breakup of a relationship. And if moving is difficult for working adults, imagine how overwhelming it can be for seniors and people with disabilities faced with the prospect of leaving home for a care facility.
Even when people move willingly, doing so forces them to acknowledge life will never be the same. Their relationship to themselves, to their bodies and to their families, friends and community will change irrevocably. Understanding the challenges they will face in the new environment can help a caregiver empathize with and ease their burden.
The challenges posed by a move to a care facility include changes in:
Physical condition. Even if seniors do not suffer from a specific medical problem, the body's general decline often feels like a betrayal. They may experience frustration and anger at not being able to engage in activities they once took for granted.
The ability to be independent. Although many senior care facilities offer residents a great deal of flexibility, the move always entails some loss of freedom. Facilities all have rules and regulations and scheduling priorities, and residents must learn to adapt to them.
Social environment. The move may separate seniors from their spouse, children, other relatives, friends and community. They may miss the corner café or the local senior center and worry about their ability to adapt to a new set of circumstances.
Financial status. Moving to a care facility can strain seniors' economic resources. Even when they have enough insurance and private funds to cover the expenses, they may experience a deep sense of loss at watching their life savings dwindle away - especially those who remember living through the Depression.
Privacy. Living in a group setting is not the norm for most people in our culture. Those who have lived on their own are used to a greater level of privacy than is available in a care facility.
As a caregiver, you will play a crucial role in facilitating the transition from home to a senior care facility. These suggestions can help smooth the way:
Help them set up their room before they move in. Many facilities allow residents to bring furniture and cherished trinkets, repaint the room, hang new curtains, or make other decorating choices. Encourage the senior to do whatever they can to make the room feel as home-like and cozy as possible.
Give the senior a chance to adjust. It is important that seniors have time to adapt to their new home, make friends and be a part of the care facility community. Many facility administrators recommend giving the new resident a week to acclimate. This does not mean not visiting at all - you don't want them to feel abandoned. Rather, visit for brief periods and encourage them to participate in the life of the community. Join them in an activity or for a meal in the dining room.
Help them accept the realities of institutional care. Explain that they may sometimes have to wait for assistance or meals. This does not mean tolerating poor care but having realistic expectations and knowing when it's appropriate to complain. Help them figure out how to navigate the facility's schedule and staffing to best suit their own needs.
Get to know the staff members. Take some time to learn about their jobs and responsibilities. Express your appreciation of a task well done. Listen to their point of view. Establishing a good relationship at the start will make all the difference when problems arise and you need their assistance. It will also facilitate the staff's acceptance of the senior as a valued addition to the community.
Educate staff about the senior's situation. Take the time to let the staff know about activities the senior enjoys. What pleases them? What irritates them? What communication strategies work best? Professional caregivers value this information because it facilitates their ability to relate to clients. Share your special knowledge about how to build and sustain a caring bond with the new resident.
Assure the senior that you will still play a valuable caregiving role. This move is one step along an often-lengthy journey. You understand your role as a caregiver does not end here, but the senior may not. They may fear you are about to disappear from their life-a fear that can impede their adjustment to their new home. Reassure them you intend to stay as involved and engaged as possible.
Finally, remember that movement to a care facility is not a failure - not of you as a caregiver nor of the senior in your care. It is only one of many paths and detours you take as a caregiver.