How to ease the transition when you move to assisted living

Harvard Health Letter

Moving from your own home to an assisted living facility can present some emotional and logistical challenges. But for people who can no longer take care of all their needs by themselves, assisted living is an excellent option.

“Often the move is triggered by a crisis, such as a fall or the loss of a spouse. But you can adapt to this new chapter and thrive if you give yourself the time to make the transition,” says Barbara Moscowitz, a geriatric social worker at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Emotional transition

Your reasons for moving may leave you feeling like you need emotional support. Moscowitz advises that you seek it out. “Every assisted living facility has at least one wellness nurse. Don’t hesitate to say you need help managing your feelings about what you’ve lost and what you’re gaining. The nurse may have a transition support group or therapist you can access,” says Moscowitz.

You’ll feel comforted, too, if you bring personal items to your new living space, such as artwork, family photos, or favorite furniture pieces. “These things remind you who you are and what you love in life,” says Moscowitz.

Physical transition

It won’t be hard physically to adjust to an assisted living facility. The environment is architecturally designed to meet the needs of an aging body. There are no steps to navigate; the bathrooms are adapted for walkers; and there won’t be any more reaching for heavy pots and pans if the facility dining room provides meals.

If anything, you’ll have an opportunity to increase your physical activity and wellness. “Assisted living facilities always have exercise classes like tai chi or chair yoga. Contracted doctors and nurses often make weekly visits right to your apartment. And many facilities offer physical therapy on campus,” says Moscowitz. It’s important to learn which services are available and take advantage of them.

Social transition

You don’t have to rush to get to know others at your facility, but don’t wait too long. “Isolation can lead to illness and despair. Social engagement is a necessity like oxygen for being well,” says Moscowitz. “The more you say hello to people or chat with someone, the more you’ll feel at home. And it’s nice to know you’ll have someone you can see the next day.”

An easy way to meet others is to take part in the many activities offered at the facility.

“Start thinking about which activities will give you pleasure. Maybe it’s something you had to give up to raise your family, like painting, or maybe it will be something new, such as memoir writing. There may be outings to museums or concerts. There’s a huge buffet of activities, and you’ll feel engaged and purposeful if you participate,” says Moscowitz.