What to Do If Your Parent Isn’t Adjusting to Assisted Living

Updated

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

As a concerned and caring adult child, you probably had lots of discussions about assisted living before your parent moved to one. The reasons your parent moved to assisted living were perhaps the result of careful consideration of their care needs and overall financial situation. Let’s assume that you went through most of the assisted living checklist and felt confident that this was the right decision. 

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And then, after the move, things don’t seem to be going well. You might be picking up on verbal and non-verbal clues that your parent is struggling and not adjusting to assisted living as you had hoped.

Going through our steps to detect dissatisfaction and then making plans to help your parent adjust might fix the situation. There might not be an agreeable solution in some cases, and you may have to think of alternatives.

Common Signs Your Parent Isn’t Adjusting to Assisted Living

Some of the common signs that your parent isn’t adjusting to assisted living might not be obvious. You will want to observe and monitor your parent carefully, especially during the first few months when adjustment is most challenging. 

Your parent tells you they aren’t happy

In some cases, your parent will simply tell you they don’t like assisted living. There might not be a particular reason, or there could be several. You shouldn’t underestimate the time it takes to adjust to assisted living.

Moving is exhausting, and getting used to a new environment with different people and staff can be overwhelming and distressing. Your parent may continue to state they wish they were home again.

Your parent seems depressed

You may have a parent who isn’t comfortable verbalizing their discomfort, and they become depressed. Clinical depression or even situational depression in your parent might present with symptoms like withdrawal, low mood, trouble sleeping, irritability, and feelings of worthlessness. A significant mood change could be an indication that your parent is not adjusting to assisted living.

Numerous complaints

Your parent might complain about the staff and other residents, or cleaning services, food, or activities. Your parent may report that the residents aren’t friendly. These complaints could be legitimate, or they could be a way of letting you know they aren’t adjusting well.

Staff reports

Care staff report that your parent doesn’t seem to be adjusting to assisted living. They may notice that your parent seems unhappy or resists care and complains. Staff in most good assisted living communities monitor how new residents are doing and report to the families.

Isolation and withdrawal

If your parent isolates in their apartment and doesn’t come out for meals or activities, this could be a sign that they are not adjusting to assisted living. It does take time to begin to socialize, but if your parent continues to withdraw this could be cause for concern.

A decline in functioning

A decline in functioning can mean that your parent struggles with mobility, eating, or getting to the toilet. Some older adults have difficulty asking for help even though it is readily available.

When they don’t ask for help, they can begin to decline. Reasons for not asking for help could be that they don’t like some of the aides, are embarrassed, or forget. You might notice your parent is losing weight, has poor hygiene, or has complaints of pain.

Your parent complains about the cost

Although cost can be a factor in assisted living, your parent may complain about the cost instead of talking about what is really bothering them. Assuming that cost is not a concern, see if you can find out what the problem is. 

Your parent has cognitive impairment

Many older adults who live in assisted living have some level of cognitive impairment not serious enough to consider memory care. If your parent has some impairment, adjusting can be even more challenging due to the increased stimuli and newness of the environment. 

How to Help Your Parent Adjust to Assisted Living

Intervening early after your parent moves to assisted living gives you the best chance of helping them adjust. You will want to give the process time while adopting an attitude of respect and concern. Also, when dealing with the staff in assisted living try to give them the benefit of the doubt while ensuring that they hear and respond to your concerns.

Be patient

It will be tempting to jump at every complaint that your parent voices. Take your time in investigating issues. Often the reality may be different than what your parent presents. A calm and patient demeanor will encourage your parent to be honest and transparent about their feelings.

Take concerns seriously

After a while, you may get tired of complaints and struggle to know which ones to respond to. Try to prioritize issues according to their relevance to care. If your parent complains about the food, take the concern seriously, but this is not urgent. If your parent voices frustration with an aide who is helping them get dressed, bathe, or go to the toilet, these should take greater priority.

Problem solve

You want the care staff at assisted living on your side. To that end, problem-solve issues without blaming. Everyone deserves the opportunity to correct mistakes, and sometimes the problem is miscommunication.

Most assisted living communities employ an aide manager. Take your concerns to that person and see if you can resolve any issues. Be as specific as you can about what your parent needs and wants so aides can adjust their care.

Recognize their loss of independence

When someone moves to assisted living, their life becomes more scheduled and regimented. Plus, they rely on help. Your parent might be lamenting their loss of independence. When they lived in their home, they could come and go and eat when they pleased. Although assisted living communities recognize that people want flexibility, it can still be an adjustment to do things according to a set schedule. 

Visit regularly

Visiting is crucial to assessing any assisted living environment. If possible, visit during the time that aides help your parent and during meal times. At first, this can be very time-consuming, but seeing how the staff acts and performs their duties will give you valuable information.

Talk with the activities director

The activities director at assisted living is the person who plans the calendar of activities. The activities director can be a valuable person to talk to about your parent if they are struggling to adjust to assisted living. Most directors will make an effort to speak with your parent about what hobbies and outings they prefer and give special attention to their needs. 

Consider in-home care

Augmenting assisted living services with in-home care could help if you can afford it. Professional caregivers can provide companionship, help with activities of daily living, engage in one-on-one activities, and transport your parent to activities and events. Sometimes an additional layer of care can make a positive difference. 

Involve siblings and friends

If you have siblings in the area, ask for their help. The more family you have working to help your parent adjust to assisted living, the better. Also, does your parent have friends they left behind? If so, help arrange for those friends to visit your parent and vice versa. 

What Can You Do If Your Parent Still Isn’t Able to Adjust?

If your parent still can’t adjust to assisted living after all of your efforts, we have some suggestions. Try not to burn yourself out attempting to fix a problem that may not be solvable, but continue to be flexible and responsive to your parent’s needs. 

Make changes to the current situation

This suggestion might seem like a repeat, but a close examination of what you can change may help. For example, if your parent feels confined to assisted living, offer to take them out more. Look at possible additions to their apartment to make it more home-like.

If your parent is complaining about the food, use one of the many delivery services available to spice things up a bit. If your parent has a specific hobby that isn’t included in the menu of activities, offer to take them to a private class or a senior center that delivers what they want.

Offer to move your parent to a different assisted living

Consider this option only if problems at the current assisted living aren’t resolved. If there are ongoing and persistent issues, moving, although stressful, might be an appropriate choice. But, before you decide to move, take time for both of you to vet several places multiple times. 

Perhaps a smaller, more intimate setting like a board and care or residential care setting would be better. You may find in the end that the current assisted living is better than anything else you can find.

Move to independent living

If available in your community, consider moving your parent to independent living with in-home care. Independent living can offer some assisted living amenities but with more freedom. If your parent moved to assisted living for additional help, you need to put that in place through an agency, but your parent may prefer this arrangement.

Stay the course

If moving doesn’t seem reasonable, and your parent has not been in assisted living for more than a year, you could stay the course. It could take much more time than you realize for your parent to adjust. Continue to offer support and solve any issues but accept that your parent may not be completely happy anywhere. 

Continue the dialogue

Continue to encourage your parent to voice their concerns, not simply for the sake of complaining, but so you can continue to work with them on adjusting. Think of an assisted living adjustment as a process, not an end. Encourage your parent to meet other residents and get involved in activities. 

Parent Not Adjusting to Assisted Living

Adjusting to assisted living is challenging and overwhelming for anyone. Try and embrace an attitude of respect and compassion for what your parent is going through. Chances are, in time, things will settle down, but if they don’t, do everything you can to improve the situation.

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