How One Family Helped Their Father Transition to Assisted Living

“We knew it would be hard to convince him.”

June 07, 2024

8 min read

Graphic quote that says "It's become his new happy normal" said by Beth Remy, daughter

In early 2024, Beth Remy and her sisters found themselves struggling with a dilemma many Americans face every year. Their 85-year-old father, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, could no longer safely live alone. Beth and her sisters, Pam and Kim, knew it was time for their dad to explore assisted living options, but he resisted the idea and they struggled to make him realize it was the right move for his health and well-being.

“We knew it would be hard to convince him,” Beth says. “He’s very independent and can be stubborn. And there’s no real rule book for how to handle this process, so we had to figure it out as we went along.”

Beth, who lives in Newport, Rhode Island, is sharing her family’s experience to help other families who are dealing with similar circumstances.

“So many people go through this process, and I think it’s helpful to hear other people’s experiences,” she says. “I think it helps to hear about other people’s stories when you’re just starting to have these conversations with your own family.”

How did you and your sisters come to the decision that it was time for your father to transition to assisted living?

Beth: In January of 2023, Dad had an event, possibly a stroke, that left him very confused. Before that, he’d been relatively healthy and independent. He was still running four miles a day at the age of 84, living on his own and driving himself places. But after that event, he started struggling cognitively. My sisters and I all lived nearby, and we would invite him over for dinner and he wouldn’t show up, which had us worried. And when we finally reached him on the phone, it usually turned out he had forgotten about our dinner plans.

On one of those nights when we couldn’t reach him, we ended up calling the police. It turned out he’d been driving around but couldn’t remember where he was going and drove himself home. We’d been worried about him driving for a while – he had gotten into some scrapes and fender benders that he didn’t want to tell us about – but after that event in January, things were clearly getting worse.

There were other disconcerting signs too. He seemed depressed and not himself. He wasn’t eating, even when we made him dinner. He was losing weight. And eventually he was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s. My two sisters and I all live near him and we would check on him, but it was clear he needed a more professional level of care.

What was your process for researching and evaluating assisted living communities?

Beth: We wanted one nearby, so that narrowed it down. My sisters and I visited four different places in the summer of 2023. Some of those places had big, welcoming common spaces that gave a misleading impression of what it would be like to live there because the actual apartments were quite small. Others had confusing layouts, which concerned us. At one point we thought, “We don’t have Alzheimer’s and we keep getting lost in this place.”

When we visited Atria Aquidneck Place in Rhode Island, it really stood out. It was like a bell went off in our heads – it was such a positive, friendly, kind environment. There were lots of windows and natural light. It didn’t feel like we were visiting a nursing home or medical facility. It felt like a community where people were continuing to live their lives.

Ironically, Atria Aquidneck Place also turned out to be more affordable than the other places we visited, so it was a no-brainer.

How did you approach the topic of senior assisted living with your father and what was his initial response?

Beth: He’s very resistant to change, so we knew he would push back. We tried to highlight the social aspects because he often talked about being lonely and bored. We never lied to him, but we did have to reiterate our points because he would often forget previous discussions. We told him the truth, which was that we thought it might be great for him to have a group of people his age to share stories and socialize with. But he kept envisioning this negative stereotype of a nursing home.

We did convince him to come see Atria – we never bothered showing him the others – and while we were on the tour, it dawned on him why we were there. I don’t think he quite understood the purpose of our visit at first. We were standing in the apartment he would move into, and he looked at us and said, “I’d rather die than live here.”

That took us all aback. So we apologized to Sandra, the person giving the tour, and said we would have to wait. My sisters and I have power of attorney, but we felt strongly that ultimately it should be Dad’s decision.

By January of 2024, it was clear things were deteriorating to the point where he couldn’t be alone anymore. So we scheduled another visit to Atria; Dad couldn’t remember the first one. This time, on the way out, he told Sandra, “You have a nice place here, thanks for letting me visit.”

We got him to agree to move in, but then he decided he didn’t want to move right away. Eventually, we all came to an agreement that Dad would move in and me or one of my sisters would stay with him the first few nights.

In the days leading up to the move, he actually helped us pack. And during the move itself, he was really calm and positive, and my sisters and I ended up not staying with him those first few nights.

What has his adjustment to living at Atria Aquidneck Place been like?

Beth: Within a week, he was doing much better. He would call us every day to tell us how good the food was, how nice the people were and all the activities he was involved in. Dad’s personality is very introverted in some ways, but he’s more social now that he’s around people. There were a couple of nights where he would call us and be confused about where he was, but it never reached a point where we had to calm him down. He became less confused as time went on.

Dad does really well when he has a routine. Living alone in his condition, he couldn’t set up a routine for himself. But at Atria, there’s so much structure that it’s easier for him. He’s eating better and he’s gained his weight back. He’s less depressed, thinking more clearly and going for walks. Sometimes he still wonders why he’s in senior living, but it’s become his new happy normal.

What did the staff at Atria do to make the transition easier?

Beth: They were great – very professional, very patient and very kind. Move-in day was stressful for us, but the front desk was very helpful handling the logistics of getting his apartment set up.

We were struggling to get Dad’s media center set up when Jason, the Executive Director, walked in and helped us. We were impressed that he would spend that much time helping us instead of calling the tech team and going on his way. Right away we felt welcomed and supported.

We all had dinner with Dad the first night and our server, Sandy, was absolutely wonderful, explaining that Dad could order off the menu if there was something else he wanted.

And now, every time we visit, the people at the front desk tell us exactly where we can find Dad. They’re so attentive. Everyone has made us feel like they’re here to help us.

How does your father feel about living at Atria now?

Beth: We 100% feel like he’s settled into a comfortable routine. He checks all the upcoming activity lists and outings. He goes to art fairs, watches documentaries, goes to music performances. He really likes Atria’s game nights, where they play TV-style games like Jeopardy and other word games like Scrabble.

We play Scrabble and billiards with him when we visit, and sometimes other residents he knows will join us. If it’s nice out, we’ll play bocce or go for a walk.

Overall, he’s happy and in good spirits. He’s doing well cognitively on a day-to-day basis, but he can’t retain short-term memory. So we tell him, “Don’t worry, we’ll live in the moment with you. We don’t have to worry about tomorrow or what happened yesterday.”

Can you offer any final thoughts on the effect this experience has had on you and your family?

Beth: It was really stressful at first for all of us. But now it’s such a relief to know he’s in good hands. We don’t have to worry about how he’s eating or if he’s going to get lost or in an accident. And we know he’s got the care and guidance he needs to have a happy, healthy routine. If his Alzheimer’s progresses, he’ll eventually need memory care, but we feel like the move to Atria is going to delay that process because he’s doing better physically and cognitively. And as it happens, his apartment overlooks the community’s memory care courtyard, so in a way he’s already getting familiar with it if he ends up needing to move there.

It’s been life-changing for my sisters and I as well. We have more of our own time back. We don’t have to do maintenance on his house or mow the lawn. For years we felt we had to be around just in case he needed us, so we canceled a lot of vacations because of that.

But we actually just took our first vacation in five years together. It was wonderful being able to do that and have peace of mind knowing that Dad was taken care of.

Illustration of three men gardening, one with a wheelbarrel of supplies, one water flowers and one planting flowers

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