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The Move To A Nursing Home

Imagine leaving the comfort and familiarity of your home to suddenly move to a strange place. Now, imagine that your new dwelling is much smaller than your beloved home and that you will not be able to bring many of your possessions. How do you make this new place a home?

For the 2.7 million elderly people in America who live in assisted-living facilities and nursing facilities, this scenario is too often a real problem. As people live longer, the chance of living in these types of facilities increases.

Graham Rowles, Ph.D., director and professor, Graduate Center for Gerontology, University of Kentucky College of Public Health, says there are ways to make this transition easier.

“Most people follow a pattern in the accumulation of possessions throughout life,” says Rowles. “People spend the first half of their life accumulating many possessions. Over time, they develop an emotional attachment to certain possessions that may become increasingly important because they tell a life story. It is important for family members to consider this significance when helping an elderly person make the transition to a new home.”

Choosing possessions
The transition phase varies from person to person. People who have moved several times throughout their lives, for example, have an easier time making a new place a home than people who have lived in the same house for 50 years.

It is often difficult to decide what to take and what to leave behind when an elderly person has to make alternative living arrangements. Rowles says that is why it is important to talk to your elderly loved ones in advance, if possible.

Family members also have to consider the space that different accommodations offer. An assisted-living facility is much like a small apartment. Although the actual available space for possessions is often limited, most residents find they are able to bring important objects. If possible, arranging the furniture the same way as it was arranged in the original home helps the transition process.

A nursing facility often offers less space than the original home, but residents should still be able to bring meaningful objects. Residents should be able to hang pictures on the walls and bring other small objects.

However, elderly people are physically vulnerable and often have to move into these facilities on short notice.
“If your loved one breaks a hip, for example, he may not be able to return home from a hospital. You may be forced to quickly decide where he will spend the rest of his life,” says Rowles.

Therapy for adjusting
This can be a heart-wrenching decision, but many facilities help the residents adjust to a new life with interventions such as reminiscence groups and life review therapy, discussion groups that encourage residents to talk about their lives. Talking about life experiences with peers is beneficial in terms of morale and well-being.

“When you remove a person from his home, you not only sever that person from his home, but from his life,” says Rowles. “This type of therapy provides continuity between the past and present instead of separating life before and after the move.”

Helping your loved one move from a beloved home to unfamiliar surroundings is often difficult, but necessary.

For more information about assisted-living options for elderly people, go to the KY Cabinet for Health Services Office of Aging Services on the Internet at gov/aging/programs. For information about nursing facilities, click on the Long-Term Ombudsman link or call (800) 372-2991.

For more information on the Graduate Center for Gerontology at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health, go to

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