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Thinking about Assisted Living? Let’s talk about the big move! For the sake of easy reading, let’s consider an example. This is about 84 year old Larry. His wife died a year ago and he has some medical issues. Being alone at home just isn’t a good fit anymore.

After you’ve determined where the new “home” is, grab some paper and start making the lists. The longer the distance of the move, the more accurate you need to be. Here are some ideas for lists and some “food for thought”.

Packing

1.   The “What to Bring Lists”:

  • Ask the Sales Director at the facility for a list of things to bring. The list may cover things such as bed, bed linens, pillows, clothes, laundry hamper, shower curtain, trash cans, chair, end table, toiletries, desk, pen, paper, glasses, plates, silverware, napkins, toilet paper etc. Did I just hear you ask why dishes? Sometimes it is nice to make a bowl of ice cream in your apartment. Or, have take-out delivered to the apartment. Or, heat up a frozen TV dinner, even if the main dining will be in the communal dining area. Be sure to find out what the ground rules are from your facility though. Every location has different requirements.
  • What does the person moving into AL want to bring with them? This is a big question and can be overwhelming. Break this conversation into smaller pieces, talk about furniture, then pictures, then the “what-nots” and “tchotchkes”.
  • Ask specific questions such as “Which pictures do you want to hang at your new apartment”? If Larry is in mental overload already you might need to be more specific and ask questions such as, “Do you want to take this picture Aunt Sally painted with you, to your new apartment”?
  • Ask “What pieces of furniture do you want in your new apartment”? If that question is too broad then be more specific, “I think we definitely need your bed and the night table, would you want to take the book case from the living room also”?
  • Keep in mind the size of the new apartment; it is usually a lot smaller than their home. What items can serve as both storage and a table top?
  • What does the current caregiver think the person will want / need with to take with them?
  • Favorite blanket, Favorite pillow to prop on, Favorite framed photo, favorite coffee cup, pencil sharpener, books, magazines. Sometimes there is a surprise like something you don’t think they ever use or need and the caregiver will tell you it is something that must travel with them.
  • Think outside the box. Maybe Larry seldom uses a cane, but you might want to bring it for him, he might need it someday. What items might be needed but aren’t needed today? An icepack? Grab it

2.   Sometimes there is a medication glitch – I would recommend bringing every medication and OTC item with you. Depending on the medication arrangement, the facility probably won’t let most of it in the resident’s room. It is better to have those items near the facility, than a long drive to get to them though, just in case. The complication that we encountered was that Larry had recently refilled all his prescriptions. The insurance company refused to pay for new medications. So ALL of the old medications were needed, not just enough to carry him through a few days and we left those at the house. Hopefully you can avoid the same mistake.

3.   Comfort food: Yes, you can have snacks, food, beverages in your room in a lot of assisted living apartments. Most facilities have a fridge and a microwave in each room. Whatever those favorite snacks are; make sure they are stocked in the apartment upon arrival. This is a really stressful time for Larry, with a lot of change. He might be feeling anxious and disoriented. It is probably the first time they haven’t been in their own private home since they were a kid. Have comfort food and drinks handy.

4.   The longer distance the move, the smarter you need to be in packing. You might not have the time and/or energy to get everything unpacked on the first day. Make sure you can find the TV and the remote control, toilet paper, incontinence products, toothbrush, bedding for that first night and the lamp that goes next to the bed. It might be a great idea to leave the bathroom light on during the first night so it they wake up disorientated they have a light to figure out where they are and don’t get hurt stumbling into something in the dark.

5.   Talk to the Sales Director about the arrival for Larry. In our situation, we knew Larry would be anxious about the change. We knew he would be exhausted from the long drive plus the aches and pains of travel. The best solution was to have a place he could lay down and recover from the journey.

The furniture had to be transported from Larry’s old home to his new apartment. We worked out in advance with the Sales Director that upon arrival, Larry could immediately go to one of the respite care rooms for the first day so he could recover from the road trip, they also fed him upon arrival. They wanted to do the paper work the day of his arrival and that is time consuming. It was great for Larry to be able to lie down and take a break, instead of worrying about his furniture, the paperwork and other details while he was already tired and in pain.

Another great benefit of this arrangement is that we were able to set up his new apartment more quickly since our “helper” was napping in another room.

6.   If you get an opportunity, ask for a copy of the lease agreement a few days in advance so you can review it and make sure you are in agreement with everything. This is not a two page document, it is lengthy and it takes some time to read and you are probably in a hurry to get to the next activity of the day like unpacking.

7.   Can you bring pets? If not, do you have a reliable plan of action to make sure they are taken care of? If you are bringing them, do they have their shot records? And, don’t forget the carrying case and other important pet items to keep the pet from stressing out if pets are allowed at the new assisted living home.

8.   We thought we found a great apartment. In reality, we had the right community but the wrong apartment. If something isn’t working, fix it. We moved to a different apartment and it made a huge difference! Be sure to communicate your wants and needs to your facility. If they don’t know something isn’t right for you, they can’t fix it. And remember, you may need to help your own Larry communicate those needs with the facility if they aren’t able to express them on their own.

9.   Adjustment. This is a big change. It might be the first time your “Larry” hasn’t lived in his own home in over 50 – 60 years or more.

We make a conscious effort to call it his “apartment.” That sounds much homier than facility or assisted living.

There are going to be good days and bad days especially in the early days of the transition. Listen to your loved one and listen to the staff. The first weeks are challenging, if you get a good “vibe” off the staff then trust the staff and follow their guidance. Listen to your loved one also. The staff will tell you how long it will take to adjust. You know your loved one best so temper the staff advice against what you know of your loved one.

Our “Larry” has never been a social butterfly so we were visiting “too much” in the beginning and I think that was fine. After about a month, he is finding connections with other residents.

Also, remind your “Larry” that he has a voice in the community. If he doesn’t like the food or has a specific issue, he can take it up with the director of the facility. This is his home and they want to retain happy residents. Remind your Larry to be heard! The staff really does want happy residents; we wound up posting a sign announcing the names of everyone in the short hallway where Larry’s room is – so finding his way “home” was easier. I’m still wondering why assisted living facilities don’t paint different hallways various colors or decorate one hallway with a western motif, decorate another hallway with a New York City motif and the next hallway with an ocean motif then a desert theme to help residents find the correct hallway. But that’s just me.

Maybe the facility you find for your loved one will have other methods of helping your loved one find their apartment. Maybe consider bringing some small novelty item or plant to place outside the apartment door; this makes it easier to identify which apartment belongs to them. I would recommend against something super expensive – but something memorable that will help him find his way home if the facility allows this.

10.    If you are living nearby and are supplying the daily use items, make your life simpler. Create a checklist of all disposable items in the apartment and review it weekly so you can include it with your weekly shopping. This also stops the daily runs to the store for cough drops, incontinence products, Kleenex, shampoo, Advil or other OTC meds.

In the early days, buy two of everything and keep one at your house, so if you get a call that something is needed you might not have to run to the store to get it. I also took pictures of some of the more hard to remember stuff, so I could reference that the toothpaste was “multipurpose cool mint triple protection”. When you use something from your back up supply just remember to put it on your shopping list for next week to replenish your stock. Once you figure out how long the supply of toilet paper or cough drops last, you might not need that back up supply!

You have now compiled a list of things that definitely need to go with “Larry” to his new apartment. Wow! What to do with everything else is the next situation. Maybe there was a lot of stuff Larry wasn’t sure if he wanted. This is where storage is a wonderful thing! Whether you are selling the house or putting everything on hold until you figure out the future. Storage is there to help you through this time gap. You can rent a big storage unit and place all the furniture and personal items in it and downsize as you start to figure out what is happening.

Dealing with the Leftovers

Make sure you do a fantastic job labeling the boxes so if you need something you can find it back. I actually brought a laptop, printer and a camera. Using a spreadsheet as a template, I printed on 8.5” x 11” paper the box number and listed the contents. The laptop and printer made it a snap, to create an inventory for the box while I was packing it, then print out the page and tape it to the box. This worked great while packing multiple boxes at a time because you just add it to the list for that box. A spreadsheet made it easy to bounce between box labels. Also the labels are big and easy to read.

Trying to keep all the similar items into a box was tricky. I found DVDs and CDs in every room of the house. They ultimately all wound up in one box and I just continued adding to the inventory to the label as I packed it. This also doubles as an insurance reference list if there is a problem in the future. It will make it a lot easier if Larry suddenly says that he wants the blue trinket from his bedroom – I can check my list and know which box I need to locate instead of reading every single label on every box. I can check the spreadsheet for the box number that I need and just scout box numbers. The camera was to take pictures of special items that I might need to reference later or couldn’t describe.

Hopefully this helps…. Seems like another blog post might be needed for taking care of the empty house!

If you’re curious as to how Larry is doing, it’s been four months now, he has plenty of privacy in his apartment. When he first arrived the caregivers did “pop in” quite frequently to make sure he had what he needed, that he was safe and made frequent checks on him during the night as well. After the caregivers learned Larry’s routine they don’t “pop in” as often.

Everyone is confident that he knows to hit his button if he needs something and that he makes good safe choices in his apartment. They know he frequently skips lunch and what activities he does or doesn’t enjoy. He is surrounded by a fantastic group of caregivers that make him feel special and that is very important! He has friends and he also lives near his children and has seen more of them in a month than he did in the prior three years! And, he tells me that he isn’t tired of us yet!

One evening the air conditioner started to rattle a bit, he stated that he would have to “look at it” in the morning. I suggested he tell a caregiver and they’d relay the issue to maintenance. He grinned a bit and realized, he didn’t have to fix the darn thing!

-Jennifer Parks
Storage West Surprise Manager

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