When is the right time to downsize into an assisted or independent living community?

The decision to leave one’s cherished family home and move into a smaller apartment at an independent or assisted living community is one of the most important and impactful decisions we or our loved ones will ever make.  This new home will likely be our last, and it’s essential that it be a good fit for our needs now and, hopefully, moving forward. The considerations of space, amenities, quality of care, cost, and location all have their implications.

But the timing of this move is also very important.

The new standard, and desire of most everyone, is to keep ourselves or family members in our homes as long as possible.  Sometimes called “aging in place”,  I prefer to call it living in place. Santa Fe is blessed to have many caring and professional services to support this goal.  For example, in-home care-givers provide reliable and personal support that takes the “aloneness”, and some risk, out of living alone. But what happens when a greater level of security and care is needed, and relocating to a senior living community becomes a necessity? How do we know when the time is right?

The truth is, the right time is whatever time you or your family member makes this decision. There is no right or wrong time, but there are better scenarios than others, that insure a smoother transition and a much less stressful experience for the person being relocated. My clients usually fall into one of the following three categories.

  • The first, and most ideal, are those seniors who make the decision to move completely of their own accord, who embrace downsizing into an independent or assisted living community as an exciting lifestyle choice. They see the advantages of doing this sooner rather than later, and engage robustly with the timing and decision making process.  These clients really feel empowered by their conscious participation. And their grown children and other family members also benefit….no need to pressure mom and dad about making this decision, no need to worry about having to deal with a huge houseful of furnishings and possessions down the line, because their parents have chosen to handle this now. This is truly a great gift to everyone involved!
  • The second group of seniors I’ve work with are those that make this decision out of necessity; a spouse or partner’s health is declining , and living at home is simply no longer an option. This is usually not a pleasant process, as in addition to leaving a valued family home, one partner is also dealing with the physical or cognitive issues of the other. I recently relocated a couple who had been in their home for 50 years, longer than many of you reading this have been alive. The husband could find many excuses not to move, until there were just too many reasons that made staying unsafe. 
  • The third, and most challenging scenario, is when clients need to be moved immediately because their health status changes quickly or home care is no longer an option.  Taking on an already stressful and upsetting process is complicated by the absence of stable physical or cognitive abilities, making it even more difficult for the senior to cope and understand the process. I received an email last Christmas Eve, asking for someone to be relocated in two weeks. She had a wonderful “beehive” of loving friends that had created a caring support group enabling her to remain in her home. Their efforts were so successful that they didn’t really notice her declining condition…until it was impossible to ignore. Then the situation was suddenly dire.

Another factor that I feel is crucial in this major life transition is making sure our seniors are in complete choice, as much as possible. There are dozens of decisions that go into relocating, and giving them the time to “be” with each one, and have their voice heard, takes time.  This empowering process is diminished when the clock is ticking and a sense of urgency dictates the process.

Many things color the timing of when to move, and every person’s reasons are valid and often complex. Of course, the most important factor here is getting our elders the care and stability they need as soon as possible. But as a designer who coordinates and “produces” the relocation process, I strive to create a time-line that is not only methodical and realistic, but also builds in enough time for my clients to make on-going, minute adjustments to their changing reality, or to give them the frequent “time-outs” they sometimes need. No one likes being pressured when they’re in overwhelm.

If the conversation of relocating comes up between you and/or family members, I suggest that you work with a six month time-line. Granted, this is ideal, but it’s a good place to start. This provides time to research the many stellar senior living communities available in Santa Fe or, to select a new apartment that’s just right (and make any desired changes or upgrades), to begin adjusting to the person’s new reality and sense of self, to make peace with leaving their home, securing help and support with the moving process, parting with possessions (and perhaps purchasing new scale-appropriate furniture), arranging for a mover, and finally, making the move. 

Feeling “at home” is important throughout our lives, but I believe that as seniors, having a living environment that is personal, warm, safe and meaningful is essential to our well-being and longevity. Creating a new home in our 70’s, 80’s, or beyond, can be challenging, but also an opportunity for self-discovery and a new lease on life! I am grateful to partner with so many wise elders in this very personal transition.

This blog was submitted by Santa Fe Healthcare Network Member, Karen Lievense, owner of  downsizing made simple interior design.