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Moving a Loved One: What TO Do and What NOT to Do

En español | Moving is usually a stressful and emotional experience, regardless of age or situation. Moving in the later stage of life, however, can be very difficult, especially if independence is being sacrificed and the family home is being left behind.

See also: 10 tips for a manageable move.

Caregivers can help make this transition much more pleasant for their loved one — or they can make it much, much harder. Learning to walk the line between keeping momentum and taking over is critical. Here is a list of what TO do and what NOT to do when helping your loved one move.

Decisions About the Move

DO: Discuss with your parent or loved one, well in advance, what type of housing he or she feels is needed, if possible.
Make decisions about their care without their input. And don’t wait until the last minute to discuss your loved one’s housing options. Regardless of what type of home or care facility your loved one is moving to, it’s very important that they have a say.

DO: Bring your parent or loved one around to visit potential residences, if they are able.
Assume it will be too much trouble to bring them along. At the least, take pictures to show them.

DO: Get a detailed list of services each potential new residence offers, if applicable.
Assume that all care facilities offer the same services.

DO: Look for residences that offer the same conveniences as your loved one is accustomed to, such as a dishwasher, washer and dryer.
Figure a smaller space translates to fewer needs. To ensure an easy transition, it’s important that your loved one has as many comforts as possible.

DO: Consider hiring a senior move manager. This is a growing field and one that can prove extremely helpful to you and your loved one. Visit the National Association of Senior Move Manager’s website to learn more.
Think you can handle it from afar or that the process of moving a loved one will be a cinch. If it gets to be too much, ask for help.

DO: Research and hire reputable movers, ideally with experience moving seniors. Ask your loved one’s friends who have moved recently for recommendations. And many facilities catering to older adults may be able to offer suggestions as well.
Sacrifice quality over cost. We’ve all heard our fair share of moving day horror stories and adding another tale to the library isn’t necessary. Go with the most reputable and recommended within your price range.

Preparation for the Move: Downsizing

DO: Begin downsizing well in advance of the move.
Wait until a week before the move to start weeding out unused items.

DO: Include your parent or loved one in the downsizing process. This is their stuff, after all.
Decide what stays and what goes. Let your parent or loved one make those decisions, even if it means the process takes a bit longer.

DO: Let your parent or loved one come to their own decisions about what to keep, what to donate and what to toss.
Steamroll the process and insist on making decisions for them.

DO: Start the downsizing process in rooms used the least. This will help prevent overwhelming the rest of the house with the excess clutter and potential mess.
Start a project you can’t easily finish or clean up at the end of the day. The moving process can be emotional and the last thing your parent or loved one needs is to be overwhelmed in their own home with a bunch of unfinished projects.

DO: Start with the biggest items in the room first and move down in size from there. This will help encourage progress and will get larger items out of the way, making room for sorting, cleaning, packing and organizing.
Sort knick-knacks and small décor first. This will make the entire process seem like an insurmountable task.

DO: Plan the division of assets in advance if your parent or loved one isn’t taking everything with them to their next residence.
Wait until the move to decide which sibling gets what from your parents. This will only cause arguments. Best to have these decisions made well in advance.

Next Page: How to map out the new space. »

DO: Take note of the history and stories behind any special items. Give your parent or loved one the time to share these, as they will prove invaluable when passed on to other family members.
Rush your parent or loved one through the sorting process. This is how heirlooms are lost and the history and meaning around special pieces gets forgotten.

DO: Have a system in place for what is being kept, donated, passed down and thrown away. If your parent or loved one is able, they can begin doing this well in advance of the move to expedite the process.
Plan to figure it out as you go. These decisions need to be made well in advance of any deadline.

DO: Sort a little at a time.
Overdo it. Planning 10-hour days in a fit to get things done will only overwhelm you and your loved one and lead to hasty decisions.

DO: Get rid of things not worn or used in a year.
Move unneeded items. It’ll cost more and cause more headaches during the unpacking process.

DO: Take photos and/or video of your loved one’s home before downsizing or packing a thing so they can remember their home as it was.
Assume their memories of home are as good as any picture or video would be. These images are priceless for both your loved one as well as any family members who grew up there.

Preparation for the Move: Planning for the New Space
Draw up a map, to scale, of the new space prior to the move. This will help you and your loved one decide which furniture to keep and how it will be arranged. This map can also be displayed on moving day so the movers know where specific items should go.
Wing it and plan to figure out how to set up your loved one’s new space on move-in day. This can cause confusion and make your loved one overwhelmed.

DO: When mapping out the new space, plan the layout as close to your loved one’s current layout as possible. Creating a similar atmosphere in their new home will aid in the process of settling in.
Think of this move as an opportunity to change rooms around and redecorate — regardless of how appalling you may think that old plaid lounger is. Having continuity between old home and new will help your loved one feel more at ease.

DO: Figure out what, if anything, will be needed for the new residence. Often furniture from the family home will be too big for an apartment or care facility. Help your loved one make a list of any new furniture, towels, décor, throw rugs, kitchen essentials, etc., they will need in their new home.
Assume what’s needed and go on a shopping spree without input from your loved one. This is their home and they should decide how to furnish and decorate it.

DO: Make shopping for any new items an exciting process to put a positive spin on what can be an upsetting situation.
Think of any move-related shopping as a hassle and a waste of your time. This will only add tension to the situation.

DO: Visit the new residence as many times as needed to ensure any renovations are complete before moving day and to check that all appliances are working, water is running and electricity is on.
Depend on the new residence to have everything in working order.

DO: Set up cable, Internet access and phone systems prior to the move. If the phone company can’t make it out before move-in day, arrange to leave a cell phone with your loved one until the line is set up so they can reach out for help if need be.
Wait until after the move to have utilities set up. In order for your loved one to enjoy as smooth a transition as possible, these details need to be worked out before they move in.

DO: Work with your loved one to pack a bag or box for their first night in their new place. Include pajamas, fresh towels and bedding, bathroom necessities (including a shower curtain, if needed, shower mats and toilet paper), an alarm clock, any necessary medications, books and magazines and a few pictures and other mementos to display.
Pack this for them. They may have very specific ideas of what they’ll need during their first night. If anything, pack them a little gift box with special teas or coffees and treats for their first morning in their new home.

Next Page: Tips to follow for a smooth moving day. »

Moving Day

DO: If possible, plan lunch or an outing of some kind for your loved one during the move. The activity of the day can be awfully stressful and providing them with a little normalcy may go a long way in getting them settled.
Force your loved one out if they don’t want to go. If they are insistent on supervising and helping with the move, let them. It may take a bit more time, but it is their home and they should be able to stick around if that’s their desire.

DO: Stop at the grocery store the night before so you can stock the fridge for your loved one so they’re not running out late into the night for provisions.
Assume you’ll have time to do this after the move. There will be plenty of stuff to do at the house to keep you all busy. And you don’t want your loved one going a day or two without any groceries.

DO: Duplicate the layout of their old residence in the new space, as best as possible.
Change the layout of all their furniture. Continuity is key to getting your loved one comfortable in their new place.

DO: Set up your loved one’s bed, bathroom and kitchen first. Put everything in the same spot as it was in the old house, if possible. If water glasses were always in the cabinet closest to the refrigerator, duplicate that in the new space so your loved one knows where to go to find his or her stuff.
Start unpacking willy-nilly. The day will fly by so getting the essentials taken care of first is ideal.

DO: Set up a dim lamp or night light in key spaces of the house so your loved one can find their way to the bathroom or kitchen in the middle of the night.
Assume they won’t need this helpful aid if they never used one in their old house. Getting used to a new layout takes time and the small effort it takes to set up a lamp or nightlight can prevent falls and middle-of-the-night accidents.

DO: Include normalcy in the day. If your loved one has a particular routine he or she follows before bed — or any time during the day — ensure that things are set up to allow for this process.
Take routines for granted. They are what many of us thrive on. Providing the necessities for these routines can help immensely in the transition process.

DO: Take any pets into account. Many go through separation anxiety during a move. If your loved one has a pet, unpack his toys, bed, food and bowls as soon as possible and arrange them where they were set up in the old house, if possible.
Forget the pets! They are family, too.

DO: Be patient, flexible and understanding. Not everything will go as planned and, chances are, you and your loved one will grate on each other’s nerves. Take it in stride. This is a very difficult time for them and you need to be as supportive as possible.
Take over and get frustrated when things don’t go as planned. This will only add tension to an already stressful day.

DO: Understand that this may be extremely emotional for your loved one. Give them the time and space they need to grieve and help them through this transition with as much kindness and sincerity as possible.
Think this is easy for them. Any transition is hard, especially when moving away from the family home, giving up any independence, downsizing and starting fresh at an older age.

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