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8 Lessons Learned the Hard Way When I Helped My Aging Parents Move

I helped my parents move 3 times to different retirement communities, and I’ve learned a lot the hard way. The first move was from their home of over 40 years to an independent living community in our hometown of Tuscaloosa. Mom and Dad settled in, made friends, and lived there for 8 years until my Mom’s health began to decline. When she needed to transition to assisted living, we made the second move to bring them to Birmingham where I live. After hospitalizations left my Mom needing rehabilitation and, we thought, skilled nursing care, we had to make a third move only seven months later. Here are the lessons we learned the hard way that I hope will benefit other families:

Mistake 1: We did not select a retirement community that provides all levels of care- from independent living to assisted living to skilled nursing to memory care.

After back-to-back hospitalizations, the assisted living facility where my Mom lived said her needs were greater than the care they could provide, so we had to find a new place for her and my Dad to live. This news prompted move #3, which is also known as the time I projectile vomited in the retirement community’s public restroom! Thankfully, the third retirement community also offered rehabilitation, so Mom was able to regain her strength in rehab for several months and then move to assisted living in the same building.

Takeaway: Your parent’s need for care may change in the future and it is less stressful on your parent and you if she can stay in the same facility.

Mistake 2: We did not ask if there were plans to sell the retirement community before making the decision to move.

 I found out the day before my parents’ move from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham that the community they were moving to was being sold to a new company. This transaction resulted in a change of staff, billing errors as the old system was converted to the new system, and lots of uncertainty, which increased stress in an already stressful situation.

Takeaway: Although unlikely, this scenario could have been avoided if we’d known to ask if there are any plans to sell the community before making a decision to move there.

Mistake 3: We did not get the whole family involved in the move and delegate jobs based on individual strengths.

 Mom and Dad handled most of the first move, but their memory and health declined by the second move so I handled most of those logistics. I still suffer flashbacks from all of the paperwork and questions I was asked! When the third move happened only seven months later, the “projectile vomiting incident” prompted my sisters, who live out of town, to help more. In retrospect, we should have divided tasks for each move based on skill sets. For example, the family member who is more organized may take responsibility for the move day logistics, like hiring movers, changing addresses, and completing paperwork for the retirement community. The family member who is medically inclined could help find new doctors, fill out paperwork (it never ends!) and schedule new patient appointments. The family’s “social butterfly” may be better suited to come and stay after the move to help parents meet other residents and get them involved in activities in the community.

 Takeaway: Assess the strengths of your family members then divide and conquer the necessary tasks.

Mistake 4: We did not take pictures and video of our parents’ home before they moved.

I was so focused on the logistics of packing and changing addresses that I didn’t stop to capture any memories of the home I grew up in and where my parents lived for over 40 years. While not necessary, it would be nice to have some pictures to reminisce with my parents, my sisters, and with my children.

Takeaway: Make time to take pictures and video while all of their “stuff” is still there.

Mistake 5: I did not appreciate how hard getting rid of “stuff” would be on my parents.

My parents placed a high value on the “stuff” they accumulated over the years, but the rest of the family and would-be buyers did not share that same value. Yes, there were a few special items that someone in the family wanted (but probably not many) and some furniture and lawn equipment could be sold at an estate sale, but a lot of things were donated to charity or thrown away.

Takeaway: Talk to your parents about this disconnect beforehand so they understand the issue is not personal – and maybe find something else for them to do on the day of the estate sale! As a side note, seeing the quantity of items that get thrown away and given away may inspire you to bring out your inner Marie Kondo, so your children won’t be faced with the same problem down the road.

Mistake 6: I didn’t think through the timing of when to make the move.

I scheduled the move from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham on the Saturday of July 4th week-end, which meant that, not only were we at risk from heat exhaustion, but also the regular staff of the new retirement community was on vacation. We had questions about how to turn on my Dad’s cable so he could watch the news and who to call to get the closet door repaired that had to wait until after the holiday weekend. Again, it was more stress during an already very stressful time.

Takeaway: Schedule your move for a weekday and, if you have some control over the timing of the move, try not to schedule it during one of the hottest, most humid times of the year. Just call me Captain Obvious! Yes, I recognize selecting a weekday means you may have to take off from work, but doing so will make for a smoother transition for your parents and ultimately save you more time down the road.

Mistake 7: I brought Mom’s medication with us when she moved, but then had to dispose of it because the new community required it be packaged through its designated pharmacy.

Takeaway: If moving your parent to assisted living, skilled nursing or memory care, ask the facility what their rules are regarding transferring medication. The facility may require that your parent use its pharmacy provider to package all medications.

Mistake 8: I did not involve the insurance agent who sold Mom’s long-term care insurance policy soon enough when I ran into delays getting her claim paid.

Takeaway: If you experience delays in getting the claim approved and paid, ask the insurance agent who sold the policy to call the company on your behalf. Also, keep copies of your correspondence with the insurance company, make notes of who you spoke to, what information was requested, when you sent that information in and set a reminder of when to follow up again.

I’m sure there are plenty more lessons I could learn with another move, but I really hope that the third one was the charm for my parents! Your Bridgeworth advisor can be a trusted resource if you have questions or concerns about a move to a retirement community.

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