By Kristine Dwyer, LSW
For decades, a large percentage
of the older population has remained on the homestead for nearly a
lifetime, in sharp contrast to today’s generation that frequently
moves or resides in temporary housing. Unfortunately, as our parents
and elderly relatives age and their health becomes frail, the
agonizing decision to move them to a safe and supportive environment
becomes necessary. Resistance and grief are common reactions to
leaving the home that is comfortable, familiar and full of treasured
Adult children and other family
members are often faced with the reality of their loved one’s
limitations and inability to safely remain in their current setting
due to dementia, progressive disease processes, diminishing eyesight
or caregiver fatigue. Other factors that necessitate change are:
wandering, confusion, weight loss, falls, medication incompliance,
sleep disturbances, driving accidents, lack of self care and
isolation. In addition, finding and financing adequate home care
services may present a barrier to remaining at home. This dilemma is
difficult for families as they attempt to weigh all of the factors
and ultimately prepare for a move away from the homestead. Sadness,
guilt, helplessness and anxiety are just some of the feelings that
can arise during this time of instability and uncertainty.
As the need for change becomes
clearer, a sense of grief and loss can be felt by all members of the
family. Just as in death, the five stages of grief can apply to this
difficult transition in life.
1) Denial about the reality of
the health and safety conditions at home.
2) Anger at the changes that have occurred, at the loss of security
of one’s personal space and at the family members who may be
responsible for this change.
3) Bargaining to remain in the home longer, promises to fix the
problems and making deals to avoid a move.
4) Depression that may be present or develop as the result of moving
and having to let go of one’s current lifestyle.
5) And finally acceptance of the change; a chance to refocus, gain
energy and set new goals in a different environment.
Here are some suggestions to help caregivers and family
members grieve and assist in the transition from a lifetime
home to assisted living or another care setting:
Plan a family
meeting where all concerned parties can come together
and thoroughly discuss needs and moving options. Be
truthful and realistic about the need for a loved one to
move. Initially, keep emotions to the side and focus on
the facts at hand, especially if your loved one is
unable to comprehend the situation and see the bigger
Talk with others who
may have already traveled on this journey and learn from
their experiences. Find others who can ‘walk’ beside you
during this transition such as a physician, clergy,
friend, social worker, caregiver consultant or the care
provider of the residence in which your loved one will
Be prepared for good
days and bad days as change and loss are realized by all
who are involved. Be aware that decisions and emotions
may waiver during this transition process. Remain
focused on the risks and facts surrounding the need for
change and continue to move forward. Offer reassurance
when resistance surfaces and keep a positive attitude
about the move and the opportunities that may be
available at the new residence.
Involve the family
member or loved one in the planning and preparation to
move by touring several housing options and allow
choices for items to take along such as antiques,
furniture or photos that generate fond memories.