‘Will my Mom fit in?’ I imagine anyone who works with families considering moving their loved one into a community has heard this question. Our natural instinct is to assure the family that YES, of course they will! In my experience, most often times they do. However, finding ways to help make that acclimatization happen more quickly for new residents can mean the difference between them becoming a long-term resident or quickly moving out. Coming from the perspective of not only someone who has helped other families in this situation, but also as the adult daughter of parents who recently moved into senior living, I want to share some ideas on how to assist new residents to quickly make new friends and adapt to their new life in a community.
This topic brings to mind John; one of my first new residents in the early days of my senior living career. John’s daughters reached out to me for help moving their Dad from an assisted living community to our active retirement community. John was in a state of deep depression following the loss of his beloved wife along with several friends. He had lost his drive, thinking there was nothing left for him. It took a great deal of effort to help John move in to an independent living community. However, just as soon as he arrived, he was ready to leave! Showing compassion and patience was the start to helping John thrive, but the key came in the form of an introduction to a few friendly folks during happy hour. Within a week, his personality began to come back to life. Within a month he wasn’t only attending activities, but was a key member of his new group of friends! By introducing him to active residents with the same interests and experiences, he began to once again feel connected and a part of a community.
I found in my experience, the personal touch makes the difference. By working just as hard to learn the likes/dislikes of a senior as you did about their care needs, you have a great chance of knowing how you can help bring them joy! Spend time asking questions like ‘Prior to retiring, how did your Mom spend her spare time?’, ‘When you were growing up did your Dad belong to any civic or community groups?’, ‘After retiring, what did your loved one do during the day?’, ‘What’s your Mom’s favorite topic of conversation?’ You will get to know the ‘person’ not just the ‘patient’ and will hopefully get ideas on what is meaningful to them. In helping new residents make friends and fit in:
- Use a team approach.
- Share the information you gathered with your team. Don’t just include the Activities Coordinator, but the front desk team, the Chef, the Bus Driver and especially the Care Team.
- Put each new resident on a ‘Priority List’. Just as someone with a high care need, the new resident needs lots of TLC from the team during the first 30 days.
- Share a progress report each morning during the team huddle and have an action plan to ensure these new residents are actively engaged.
- Make a plan
- Encourage the family to sit down with an activities calendar and highlight events they feel their loved one would enjoy. Then, come up with a team approach to get the new resident to attend.
- Rather than having a team member escort them to the activity, ask another Resident (hopefully you have a Welcome Committee or Ambassador Team) to extend a personal invite.
- Connect those with similar backgrounds.
- Bring together both residents for coffee with you to ensure the conversation not only gets started but goes well.
- Consider many types of commonality such as: Other residents who also grew up in NY? Other residents who are cat lovers and live with their furry friend? A fellow foodie? Another Senior Olympic competitor? And of course, those who currently enjoy a similar activity such as water aerobics sessions.
- Involve Family
- Encourage the family to ask their loved one about his/her participation and share feedback.
- In larger communities, encourage the family to consider paying a caregiver to escort the resident to new activities during those first couple of weeks if the resident is apprehensive about taking that ‘first step’. Our family used this tactic to get my Mother to attend water aerobics. After two ‘escorts’, she was happy to go alone!
- Help maintain social connections
- Consider bringing in a group with whom the new resident already has a connection. Many bridge clubs, Sunday School classes, and civic clubs are happy to have an opportunity to ensure they stay in touch with their member who is making this move.
When residents are connected and engaged within your community, it not only makes life more enjoyable for them, but also makes them want to stay residents long term and send in those valuable friends and family referrals.
From our quality of life survey we know that 64% of families see their senior loved one’s social well-being improve after a move to assisted living. Sharing stories that demonstrate how committed your team is to getting a family’s loved one involved can bring this statistic to life.