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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published January 28 2012

Bradley Bursack: Use compassion with Mom to help her into new home

Dear Carol: My dad died suddenly about a year ago. Mom is 73 and quite frail for her age. She’s also slipping cognitively. She can’t keep up the house they’ve lived in for decades and she seems afraid to live there alone, so I’d like to see her move to assisted living.

Mom actually wants to make the move, but she seems frozen when it comes to getting rid of anything in the house so she can move. How can I get her going with this project? – Amanda

Dear Amanda: Your mom has decades of memories attached to the home, most of which likely include your dad. She probably feels she’s leaving a part of him behind if she moves out. At the same time, she’s rightly concerned about living alone. Remind her that Dad would want her to be safe.

Could you temporarily hire some in-home help to come in for a few hours a day? The caregiver could give your mom companionship and let her reminisce about the many items in the home and what they mean to her.

They could also take photos of cherished items and talk about which of her possessions relatives could keep in their homes. It’s likely that your mom needs to talk though her grief over leaving behind this part of her life. Having this kind of attention may help bridge the gap before a move. Old friends can often help in this way, too.

If your mom has an assisted living facility picked out, try taking her there to visit so she can start to feel at home in the new environment. If you ask permission, you can likely attend some events and even have a few meals there. Ask the staff to introduce her to people and take you both through a room much like what she’d have. Help her visualize where she’d place her belongings.

When your get home, draw a floor plan so you can “place” furniture in the new home. Keep the colorful brochures from the facility with the floor plan as an added reminder that there is a nice home waiting for her.

There are moving companies who have personnel specifically trained to help elders with difficult moves. Professional elder movers can help her and the family with decisions while stirring excitement about her new living arrangement.

Keep in mind how emotional this move is for your mom, so try to compassionately ease her out of the old and into the new. She’ll have tough days, but if she knows that this is the best option for her she’ll likely be happy she made the move once it’s over and she’s had time to adjust.


Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a Web site supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.