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Bursack: Transition to assisted living should start with more family support

Carol Bradley Bursack
Carol Bradley Bursack, Minding Our Elders columnist. Special to The Forum

Dear Carol: My mom has moderate dementia and she seems to like the idea of living in a care community. We’ve done all of the preliminary work, but the social worker at the assisted living facility recently told me that they wouldn’t want me to visit Mom for the first two weeks. Their reasoning is that Mom would adjust better if she has no alternative but to depend on them for help.

I’m uncomfortable with this idea because I feel that Mom will need my help settling in. I think that I’d feel abandoned if someone just left me like that. Is not letting the family visit something new? I’ve got friends who help their parents settle in after moving their parent to a care facility and they visit from the first. What’s going on? — LH.

Dear LH: Your mother is fortunate to have you to watch over her care. Like you, I think that any older adult is likely to feel abandoned if the family moves them to a new living environment and then just leaves without visiting for two weeks. Additionally, people like your mom need an advocate and that advocate must be an obvious, though friendly, presence from the beginning.

The idea of waiting to visit is actually an older attitude that seems to be finally falling out of favor. Subscribers to the idea have maintained that if people simply drop off their elder or spouse and leave them in the hands of the staff, the older adult will learn to depend on their new caregivers. This, in turn, is supposed to help them become acclimated to the care facility and adapt better socially.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Carol Bradley Bursack's Minding Our Elders columns


My personal view differs in that I feel that while the elder must learn these new caregivers are going to be attending to most of their needs, their emotional health requires reassurance that their family still cares and is on board for the long run. In other words, the staff and the family can work in tandem to help the elder adjust.

If this facility won’t budge on their policy, I’d search for a replacement. Once you find a good match for your mom and move her to her new home, you can help her adjust. Acquaint yourself with every level of the facility staff and do what you can to make the staff's life easier and to show appreciation. Try to stand back, though, and let the staff do their job.

Avoid unrealistic expectations, as well. This may take some letting go on your side, but in the end, your mom will benefit. Love can be blind as the saying goes, and caregivers can get so wrapped up with the quality of care in a new setting that we aren’t thinking of the reality that the staff must work with.

I hope that you find the right fit for your mom’s next home. Continue your advocacy because it’s important that you both feel as comfortable with the move as possible.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at She can be reached at

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