Adjusting to a new living space can be hard for everyone involved. For a senior loved one, leaving the house, routine and life they have been used to for decades can be incredibly stressful. Not only that but those of us, who have journeyed alongside our parents as they have slowly lost the ability to be as mobile as they once were, also go through a heart wrenching experience. You are not alone in having your heart squeezed as you see your parents trying to maintain their independence, wanting to prolong living in the homes that they have loved for longer than they can count.
Of course most of our parents want to retain the life they have loved, the walk to the shops they have done day in and day out, regardless of the weather. Yet many of us know that sometimes there comes a point where it is no longer safe for them to remain alone at home. This time of transition, from living independently at home to residing in a residential care facility can cause emotions and tempers to rise. Here are some approaches that may help to assist your loved one as they deal with their understandable feelings of frustration, sadness and grief.
Sometimes our knee-jerk reaction is to try and say that “everything will be ok”, “don’t worry, you’ll get used to it” but psychologists say that it is helpful to merely listen. Allow your senior loved one to feel heard. Let them go through their feelings of grief at saying goodbye to their old way of life, to the memories in the home of decades. Instead of jumping in with solutions, encourage them to talk their emotions through. Use active listening techniques like, “that sounds really hard, can you tell me more?” or “It sounds like you really miss your book room, what did you like so much about it?” When someone is going through a hard time of transition, it is vital they feel heard.
Diaphragmatic breathing is breathing from the diaphragm. It’s deep and sustained breathing. If your loved one is feeling particularly stressed and emotional, ask them if they want to do some deep breathing with them. Lead them through a deep breathing exercise. Count slowly from 1 to 3, breathing in. Hold for 3 seconds and then let out the breathe in 3 seconds. Deep breathing is a way to encourage the brain and body to think it is calm and in a relaxed state.
It may seem silly but having a pre decided list of questions may help to bring the mind back into a relaxed state. Ask your loved one about favourite experiences in their past. What was their favourite holiday? What was the funny/strange thing their dog did every time before dinnertime? What was the favourite spot on their afternoon walk? Can you they describe their favourite painting hanging in their favourite gallery? Can they sing the entire lyrics to their favourite Sinatra song? What was so mesmerising about their favourite Sinatra song? Create this personal list of questions that you or care staff can ask your loved one if they ever feel overwhelmed.
Adjusting to a new place is incredibly hard, especially for those that believe their new place will be their last. It is important to consistently be a part of their lives over this transition period. Having someone who is a constant may help in the transition. Having knick-knacks from home on their dresser may also create ‘a little bit of home’ in their new room. Create a support team from your family, be in open dialogue with their trusted GP and nurse and be alongside your loved one as they go through this transition journey.
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