The biggest barrier for seniors is fear of the unknown. Often, this manifests as resistance, Zeller says. Mom will say, “I’m not moving if I can’t take my dining room table.” Or, seniors find themselves immobilized. Overwhelmed with sorting through 40 years worth of memories, boxes and paperwork, they do nothing. They may not know where to begin.
For the caregiver, sensitivity to the situation is key. Don’t get frustrated and think, “Mom has all day. Why couldn’t she sort through papers?” Realize it goes deeper than that. Immobility is a mask for fear.
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Be sensitive also when it comes to the elderly person possessions – even those that seem mundane and unimportant. Zeller cites an example of a daughter going to her mother’s house to pack up the kitchen. She thought she was being helpful, but her mother was emotional about moving and in tears, because she felt violated and not in control. “Realize that this is a major life change,” Zeller says. “Some possessions will have more meaning to them – honor that.”
The elderly also experience a loss of control – perhaps for the first time in their life. They desperately want to remain in control. One way to help the elderly person feel in control is to have them involved in the move planning but guided by professionals. Planning for the move includes asking questions like:
What can they bring to their new home? Can dad bring his favorite recliner? Is there space for a dining table?
How do they envision themselves in their new home? What activities will they do? If watching TV is important, arrange a room with that in mind. If reading and writing letters is a big part of their life, make sure a comfortable chair and desk are part of their new life.
What do they need to duplicate? What are their comfort zones? Can you set up the kitchen similar to their current one, with plates in the same place? Is there a spot they can set their glasses like at home?
“Try to minimize stress by minimizing change,” Zeller advises.
For the family member caregiver, the best thing you can offer is emotional support. After possessions are moved, keep in mind the elderly person still needs family support. “Studies show it takes 30 to 90 days to become acclimated in a new home,” she says.
As a caregiver, the greatest gift you can give is time and emotional support as your loved one adjusts to the new living arrangement.
Focus on the positive: Often elderly people gain independence after a move. And families have time to spend together on relationships, rather than doing chores.