Planning for a move into an assisted living community | A guided exercise through the three phases of transition.
Author William Bridges describes transition in his book, The Way of Transition, as first letting go of how things used to be, and then taking hold of the new. He describes that “in between the letting go and the taking hold again, there is a chaotic but potentially creative “neutral zone” when things aren’t the old way, but aren’t really a new way yet either. This three-phase process—ending, neutral zone, beginning again—is transition.”
As you prepare for your transition from your old home into your new assisted living community, consider the distinct needs you may have for each phase. In this post, we’ll explore each phase, walk you through an exercise to map out how to bring home with you when you move, and discuss opportunities to get to know the people and activities in your new community.
For many, moving into assisted living means also moving out of a family home filled with memories and history. It may also mean downsizing and redistributing belongings and memorabilia to important people in your life.
It’s likely that your home is special to those who love you as well. If possible, take time to share stories and remember what made it feel so meaningful to each of you. Invite those who have shared in your life to visit and help close this chapter with celebration.
And remember, just because you’re leaving home doesn’t mean you can’t bring home with you.
The Neutral Zone
Even before you start packing, the prospect of change can move you into the Neutral Zone phase. “Although the change itself may immediately go straight from old to new—” writes Bridges, “you live in one house one day and in another the next—transition always makes us spend a surprising amount of time in that...in-between neutral zone...before we begin to feel at home there. And looking back, we realize that we felt as though we were in transition during those last weeks in the old house, too.”
So how do you make the most of your time in the Neutral Zone while your new self and new environment are being formed?
1. Begin by making a list of the things you love most about and in your home. Leave space between each item. This list can be as long as you want, so write down anything that comes to mind.
2. Next to each item, write down why each of those things brings you joy. Try to be specific, and describe the activities or purposes that involved those belongings or home traits. For example, “The dining room table is important in our family because it’s where we play board games and share in family meals.”
3. Picture the activities or purposes you described occurring in your new home. In your imagination, how will the activities and feelings of home adapt so they come with you into assisted living? In the example of our dining room table: “I picture my family sitting with me in my new home playing one of our favorite card games. Perhaps not at our dining room table, but I imagine us sitting at the smaller table from our kitchen.”
4. Go through your list again, and this time write down how you’ll bring each item with you into your new home. Remember, this may not mean that everything on the list physically moves into assisted living with you. But it may mean that an element or reminder of each does. In the dining room table example: “Instead of bringing the table itself, I could decide to bring the smaller table from our kitchen, which is still large enough for several people to share a meal at. I could also decide to bring our board and card games so that when visitors, come we have them to play with.”
Home is more than your belongings
For many of us, home is more than a physical structure or the belongings inside. Home may encompass family, neighbors, community, activities, civic participation, and so much more.
Although you’ll make new relationships and friends in the assisted living community, it can be helpful to have new ways of keeping in touch with loved ones near and far.
And even before you’ve moved into your new home, research some of the opportunities to get to know and connect in your new neighborhood. This might include programming at your local:
- Libraries: Most libraries curate timely and unique classes, workshops, and presentations that you may attend for free or for a very low cost. Classes range from art history to author readings to computer basics, with many libraries offering programming specifically for seniors.
- Parks & Recreation: Many cities offer classes, activities and workshops to residents at a low cost. In a growing number of cities, a significant portion of programming is specifically designed for participants over 50 years old. For example, Tacoma Metro Parks offers the STAR Fifty And Better (FAB) program with trips, fitness, and ballroom classes,
- Senior Activity Centers are another great place to find enjoyable performances, trips, activities, and classes. The Kent 50 Plus Bulletin is a great place to start.
- Museums: Many museums offer senior ticket pricing or discounts, as well as creative aging programs specifically geared toward seniors.
As you settle into your new home and get to know the people and environment around you, think of it as an opportunity to start fresh. Think about what activities you want to take part in and what kind of impact you want to have on those around you. Focus on the benefits of your new home, which may range from having meals prepared for you to providing opportunities to learn new skills or engage socially.
Remember that, even though your new home likely comes with support and care to make things easier for you, you still have an active role in establishing this as your home.
In a study exploring the effects of choice and personal responsibility for seniors in assisted living, participants who made their own choices and took responsibility for their apartments and activities saw significant improvements in their alertness, active community participation, and sense of wellbeing. Monitoring those empowered participants over 18 months later, they were living longer and healthier lives.
“We are ...wired to feel needed, respected, and purposeful” explains Linda P. Fried, dean of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. “The absence of those qualities is actually harmful to our health, as public health and social scientists have demonstrated.”
While moving is tiring, especially if you’ve lived in one place for a long time, stay engaged. Use this new beginning as an exciting opportunity to dedicate yourself with purpose.
“When we have done this,” writes Bridges, “we feel that we are...starting a new chapter in our lives. No matter how impossible it was to imagine a future earlier, life now feels as though it is back on track again. We have a new sense of ourselves, a new outlook, and a new sense of purpose and possibility.”