By Ann Thompson
Your parent(s) have decided to move out of their beloved home into a smaller house or apartment. Moving is stressful for anyone, but even more so for seniors. The process is full of potential pitfalls. The keys to the least stressful moves are preparation, practicality and patience. The following are tips that will help make the move easier for everyone involved.
First, if your loved one has not made the decision to move yet, don’t oversell the move. Don’t promise that you will see them more often if your schedule is already tight. Don’t focus only on the positive things about the move and new community and ignore the difficulties. Being completely up front about all aspects of the move will help your loved one feel more in control and more prepared to deal with difficulties as they arise. Knowing what to expect makes adjustment much easier.
“Moves work best when older people are relocated…to a setting that is designed for older people and has service amenities that help the transition. These settings are good at reestablishing the parents’ sense of ‘I am at home here.’” (“Mom, Dad…Can We Talk?” p.92)
Family members can help best by not becoming more of a problem than a help. Often adult children bicker over which heirlooms they want and how the moving process should go. Hold a family meeting before preparations begin and agree on a plan. Then stick to it and be cooperative. It will be better for everyone involved.
Once the decision to move has been made, plan at least 3-4 months preparation time before the move. There is a lifetime’s worth of belongings to wade through. Recognize that it will take a substantial amount of time. Senior’s physical limitations, lack of stamina and emotional factors add to this. If you cannot be available to help, hire a company that specializes in moving seniors.
Being organized is key to a smooth move. Be prepared to take it slowly, even one drawer at a time. Allow them time to relive their memories. Sort items into the following categories: bring to new house, give to family member, sell, donate, and throw away. Keep in mind the square footage of the new home when deciding what to keep. If a parent wants to keep more than can safely fit, ask them to agree to a storage unit for things they will not use frequently. Then if they have not used an item for 12 months, they would agree to part with it. You can also take photos of some items that they treasure, but have no room for, or keep just one item from a collection.
Put yourself in your parent’s shoes. This is a time when they are apt to feel somewhat powerless. You can help with this if you let them make their own choices. Many children of senior adults discard parent’s old furniture and fill the new home with new items. This may seem considerate, but for the senior adult, it may not be. Familiarity assists in the adjustment process and cuts down on anxiety. Some items may have sentimental value that you are unaware of. Keep as much the same as possible, even snapping photos of the old home and arranging the new one similarly. If their furniture fits the new space and they still like it, they should be able to keep it.
Help with the more tedious tasks. Prior to the move, cancel utilities, including phone, gas, electric, water, cable and Internet providers and newspaper subscriptions. Arrange for these same services at the new home. Start a list of friends who need to be notified of their new address. Look over health and pharmacy plans to find providers in the new location. Have medical records and prescriptions transferred. Inform Social Security, insurance companies, retirement benefits, attorney, banks, etc.
Make a list of all the things that need to be transferred: medical and dental records, auto registration, license, insurance, bank accounts, financial records, safe deposit box contents, and homeowner’s insurance and forward the mail. Get a refill of all prescriptions just prior to move. Pack medicines in their luggage, not in boxes.
In the final stages of packing, pack essential items with you instead of on the truck. These should include basic bathroom items like towels and toiletries; basic kitchen items; bedding, and things to do. (Games, TV remotes, videos, books, etc.) You will need something enjoyable to do when you are too tired to unpack.
When it is time for the move, give your parent time to say goodbye. If possible, plan a party where their friends can say goodbye. Shoot a video that your parent can watch after the move.
During the move, keep an accordion folder of important papers with you/them the entire time. The folder should contain a copy of their will, advance directives, insurance policies, a list of medications and contact information for the doctors that prescribed them. Also, bring information and medical records on pets. Another helpful thing to bring along is the phone book from their former residence. Then you will have the number handy for friends and agencies you may need to contact.
After the move, it will help your parent adjust if you can be available to help unpack, again allowing them to choose how things should be placed. If they are not overwhelmed with moving chores, they can begin getting settled in to their new community. Another way to help them with adjustment is to go with them to social events, church services, etc. Find places where they can continue the same hobbies as before the move. Take them to the bank, the post office, and other businesses that they will be using. Show them how to get around within the community, so that they will feel more confident going out on their own when you are not there. Expect a time of adjustment, or even homesickness. Give them time to adjust without rescuing them. Just be supportive.
If you have made proper preparations, the adjustment time should be shorter and it will likely not be long before your parent is comfortable in their new home and community.