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Downsizing: Helping Loved Ones Make a Late-life Move
- March 21, 2002
by Eileen Beal

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Growing old is something you get to do if you're lucky.
Croucho Marx

Making the move-in other words, downsizing to smaller quarters-from a place that's been home for the last 20, 30, or 40 years (and is full of memories) can be an emotionally draining and physically exhausting experience for your mother, father, or favorite aunt or uncle.

And you.

"This is especially true if the move is due to a crisis-a fall or stroke that has sent them to the hospital or impaired mobility," explains Debbie Shea, assistant director at Aristocrat Lakewood Retirement Community in Lakewood.

But it's also "a tough transition when they have made the choice to move on their own, because they want to be closer to their [adult] children or they have realized that living alone at home is no longer an option," says Colleen Lavelle, chief planning officer for Garfield Heights-based Jennings Center for Older Adults.

There are ways to make the move easier, on both the person who is making the move and those helping orchestrate it.

Make planning and executing the move a team effort. "Get the doctor involved. Get a social worker involved. Get other members of the family involved. And-most important of all-get, and keep, the person making the move involved," says Lavelle.

Do the grunt work. "It's a given that you are going to help-with selling the house, packing things, setting up the move, setting up the new place," said Virginia Victor, coordinator of senior services at the Alcazar Hotel, a residential hotel for seniors in Cleveland Heights.

Do the leg work. "Get educated about what [senior-friendly] housing is available, and what services each place offers," says, Shea. And she adds, don't overwhelm the person who'll be downsizing with choices. "Don't show them 10 good places," she explains, "show them the best three."

When the person who is downsizing chooses the place they can be comfortable in, advises Sandra Martin, general manager of the Alcazar Hotel, make a detailed floor plan of the new place. That, she explained, will make the move less emotionally draining (on everyone involved) by insuring that when they "transition" from their old home to their new elder-friendly retirement villa, condo, or independent and/or assisted living apartment, they can bring as much of their old place with them as possible.

"That doesn't mean bringing lots of 'stuff' from the old place," says interior designer/space planner Janet Klosky. "It means bringing things that they feel comfortable with and that they know they are going to use a lot."

"Those are things that mark the place as their own, and they help make it theirs as soon as they have moved in, too," added Klosky, whose design firm specializes in helping seniors successfully downsize.

Not surprisingly, the things that tend to "mark the place as their own" fall into two categories: Functional things, such as beds that were shared with a spouse, chairs for watching TV, favorite reading lamps, and end-tables that serve double-duty as dinner-trays. Function is important, says nationally recognized senior moving consultant Sue Ronnenkamp, head of Austin, Texas-based Living Transitions. "When you are moving to a smaller space, you want to take as much advantage of your space as you can."

The other category is items, such as antiques and heirlooms, special photographs and pictures, knickknacks and mementos that have been collected over the years and have important sentimental value. "These are the items," says Lavelle, "that turn the new place into home."

And finally, advises Ronnenkamp, when the move is complete, celebrate the new home-and new beginning-with a housewarming, "but don't assume that the transition is complete just because the move is completed."

"Adjustments take time."

For more information on helping loved ones downsize: Consumer Reports Complete Guide to Health Services for Seniors, Trudy Lieberman ($19.95)-an exhaustive guide on how to find, evaluate, and price the housing options available for seniors.

How to Care for Aging Parents, Virginia Morris ($15.95)-readable, information-dense chapters and an extensive source and resource section make this and invaluable guide to caring for aging parents.

Moving Mom and Dad: Why, Where, How, and When to Help Your Parents Relocate, Sarah Morse, et al ($19.95)-the title says it all.

The Complete Eldercare Planner, Joyce Loverde ($19.95)-a thorough guide to the financial, medical, personal, legal, and logistical issues experienced by those caring for elders.

Websites of interest:
Children of Aging Parents www.CAPS4caregivers.org Moving Mom and Dad www.movingmomanddad.com Moving Solutions www.movingsolutionsUSA.com Living Transitions www.livingtransitions.com