For some seniors, transitioning into assisted living or a memory care center is relatively smooth and even a welcome one as they enjoy the renewed ability to engage with the world around them.
Other times, the transition is very painful and much more challenging. As a family member – particularly a primary caregiver – watching a loved one struggle emotionally as they resist their new change, beg to be taken home, or react dramatically when you leave is absolutely devastating.
Often this can mean going through the emotional trauma of a crying or wailing loved one as you pry yourself away to return home after a visit, or perhaps you are the one crying and feeling guilty about leaving. In worst case scenarios, this can result in family members avoiding visits altogether as they struggle to say goodbye is simply too hard.
Easing The Transition Of Saying Goodbye When It’s Hard For A Loved One
Here are some tips and considerations to help you cope with the emotional struggle involved when your loved one cries, becomes angry or seems despondent when you say goodbye.
How long has it been since your loved one moved in?
Everyone adjusts differently to their transition into assisted living or memory care. For some, having lots of visits on a regular basis is very helpful. For others, constant visits make it harder for them to accept their new living situation and to willingly forge new relationships and routines in their community.
If the transition took place within the past few months, speak to the staff and see what they think. You may find that scaling back visits and leaving more time in between is the answer.
While difficult for you initially, allowing your loved one more time to completely settle in and find their place could make future visits and goodbyes more successful.
Read, How to Move a Parent with Dementia into Assisted Living. Even if you’ve already made the move – the information you find there can offer insight and recommendations you can put into place.
Seek assistance managing your own emotions
Those with dementia can be highly attuned to the stress levels and emotions of those around them. In some cases, verbal communication tools may no longer be available, and you may find someone with dementia more likely vent their emotions in other ways or become agitated very quickly.
Next time you visit your loved one, pay close attention to your own emotional field. Are you angry? Do you feel sad? Are you feeling guilty? Are you anxious as you anticipate the potentially dramatic goodbye scene? Learning to manage your inner, emotional landscape can be very helpful in minimizing your loved one’s emotional response.
A professional therapist and/or a support group, as well as the assisted living facility staff, can help you here. By remaining calm yourself, and learning the best and most comfortable way to hug and say goodbye to your loved one, may greatly reduce or even eliminate their strong response.
Learn more about what happens after you go
It is not uncommon for those having a dramatic goodbye reaction to then quickly snap back to “center,” going normally about their day once their spouses or family members leave.
Again, remaining in communication with administration and staff is crucial in determining how much of a problem their tearful or emotional goodbye really is.
If it turns out your loved one continues his/her reactive response (crying and remaining agitated, etc.) for a long time after you leave, that’s one thing. If it turns out that you feel sadness and guilt for far longer than your loved one is sad – it may be time to re-frame the farewell story for yourself.
Work on learning how to be present with their very real sadness at your parting, but with the confidence and peace of mind that in a short while, they’ll be back to normal again. As we touch on below, you’ll feel a lot less guilty if you find out your loved one wipes his/her tears once you drive away and heads happily over to the community room for the piano player or singing hour.
Evaluate their room and make it as home-like as possible
At the Memory Care Center, we work closely with families to facilitate the transition into our center – and that includes recommendations on what to bring to their room and living space feels as personal and cozy as possible.
Take another look around their room and ask them about what items they might like to see added or swapped out. Having familiar textures, pictures, memory-keepers, scents, etc., in their room can work wonders for anchoring them between visits.
Depending on what the particular facility allows, “comfort items” typically include things like:
- A favorite throw blanket/pillow
- Personalized bedding
- Photos of family and pets
- Music player loaded with favorite songs/music
- A stuffed animal or a doll to “love” if real pets aren’t allowed
- Photo album with pictures from their childhood and life
- A digital frame that keeps a running stream of photos going
- Live plants or flowers
A simple conversation may enlighten you about things s/he wished had been brought, things s/he wishes were there, etc., and hopefully, you can find a way to accommodate their needs.
Work with staff to find the best time for visits/departures
Often, that tearful, fretful or even dramatic goodbye scene has more to do with your loved one’s daily rhythm than it does about your departure.
Check in with the staff to learn more about your loved one’s “best times of day” versus the times of day they struggle the most. Are there days of the week that are better than others?
Insight into those questions may help you find a better day of the week or better time of day, and that simple calendar shift could make a notable difference.
Another important question to ask if you haven’t done so already: what activities are your loved one’s favorite(s)?
You may find that timing your visit just ahead of their favorite activity (crafts, music time, the weekly movie date, etc.) means they’re ready for you to go so they can join their friends and stick to their routine. Then you can intentionally schedule your farewell to coincide with the start of Bingo or ballroom dancing class…
Seek a support group
Joining a support group can be instrumental in helping you facilitate the spectrum of emotions that arise when you have a spouse, parent or loved one in memory care. These support groups meet during a range of days and times, so hopefully, you can find a local support group in your area that works for your schedule.
No, the group can’t make the grief, sadness, and anguish go away altogether, but there is great comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Plus, sitting with a group of people who have been where you are means you have access to all kinds of “professional” tips, recommendations and ideas that may help you figure out the best way for bidding farewell to your loved one without absorbing the impact of their intense reaction.
Learning To Cope With Saying Goodbye To A Loved One In Assisted Living
It may take more time than is comfortable for you, but by considering the above ideas, you’ll find a way to navigate tearful goodbyes with less emotional angst.
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