Relocating yourself or a loved one to a new setting (be it a smaller independent residence or a community with care) after what might have been a lifetime in the place you or they called ‘home’, can be a difficult and traumatic experience both in terms of packing and adjusting to the new surroundings. Change can be difficult for anyone under any circumstance and moving, often leaving a place tied to special memories and people, is one of the more stressful situations one has to deal with. Moving into a retirement community can present added challenges as there will be a new routine and many new people to get to know.
The key to making the process as easy as possible is planning. Allow as much time as possible to pack, dispose of excess items, organize and ensure that your possessions will fit in your new space. Take some time to explore your new neighbourhood and get to know the amenities around you within easy walking distance.
On moving day, unpack the necessary items first. Sometimes hanging pictures right away gives one a sense of ‘home’ but in doing so, keep in mind the possibility that you might still move your furniture around until it is exactly where you want it to be. Take some time to decorate your suite, so your new place feels like it’s really yours. If you are buying new furniture, ensure it is sturdy and will fit comfortably in the space you have while allowing for easy access to move around. Ask the home administrator if they can match you with a current resident who has similar interests, and who can ‘buddy’ with you, as you adjust to your new surroundings and schedule.
Spend some time getting to know the building and where everything is. Most places have lounges, dining rooms and activity areas as well as many other amenity areas. Help the staff to get to know you by telling them a bit about yourself and get to know them as well. Participate in different activities (you might want to ask if you can do this in advance of moving in) to get to know other residents and the general routine of the community. Most residences have things going on throughout the day an the more you try out the activities, the quicker you will form a network of friends and the easier the adjustment to your new home will be. Consider joining or participating in a Resident Council if there is one. It’s a good way to get to know how decisions are made and what is going on, and planned, for the residence.
Caregivers can play an important role as well in helping a loved one relocate to a new setting. Be present, supportive and helpful throughout the process and on moving day. Assist with sorting and packing belongings (this can be a wonderful way to share memories and pass on family stories along with items they may be attached to). Understand how overwhelming the process of moving can be and encourage the person to speak about their feelings, both negative and positive, with you.
If the person has been relocated from a hospital setting and has not had an opportunity to return to their home (if possible) arrange for a visit before clearing it out, for them to say ‘goodbye’ and choose items to take with them.
Be available as much as possible during the settling-in phase. Visit often, do things you both enjoy when you are together and involve the person in your life, letting them know and participate in the happenings of the grandchildren and others. Schedule outings or trips and continue to celebrate special events and milestones together. Encourage and support independence as much as possible. Don’t make a promise to visit unless you are sure you can keep it and keep in mind that even a short visit is better than no visit. If possible, volunteer to become involved in activities for families in the residence. Get to know the staff and help them get to know your loved one. Check-in regularly about how the adjustment is going. Remember to let the staff know that you appreciate them and the care they are providing.
In reality, one does not decide to relocate without reason and as difficult as the process can be, once the adjustment is made and the person is settled, the benefits far outweigh the effort involved. Keep in mind that moving is difficult for anyone, at any age. Settling in and adjusting to new surroundings, new neighbours and possibly new caregivers will take time and patience. Security, regular meals and medications, social support and sometimes even small amounts of care often make a world of difference and can contribute to a senior remaining independent and healthy for many years to come.