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How can I adjust to living in a care home?

When making the decision to go into a care home it is common to experience a lot of conflicting feelings. You and your family/whānau may have had quite differing views on the benefits of this and the decision may not have been easily reached. This is one of life’s major events and while there may be a sense of relief that your personal wellbeing and safety will now be taken care of, other feelings of hopelessness, loss, anger, and resentment can emerge. A sudden change in your health may mean that you have had little time to think about and plan for this, so you can feel totally unprepared. There are often fears too, about what life is like in a care home and this can add to your anxiety.

In coming to this point you have probably already experienced some losses such as the loss of good health and your ability to do everything for yourself. Now there are other losses – no longer being able to make all decisions for yourself, the loss of a loved home or pet, or of regular contact with your friends or neighbours.

It is natural to feel upset about needing to go into a care home, although some people do welcome it. For most people it’s probably not something they had planned to do. While each person copes with their troubling thoughts differently, you may find the following helpful:

  • Use successful strategies that got you through tough times in the past.
  • If you are able, you may want to write things down, noting the steps you need to take to resolve your concerns.
  • Involve yourself in the exercise programme that many homes offer; physical and mental wellbeing are closely linked.
  • Give yourself time to settle in. No matter how you feel about the move, it will take time to adjust to the situation and your new environment. Consider a trial period.
  • Make the home your own. Personalise your room with your furniture and sentimental items and bring your own flair, even if initially you don’t feel much like doing this. You will find others respond positively. A personalised room creates a more private feel that others tend to respect, and this will have a positive effect on you.
  • Let the staff know your preferences including what things you like, clothing (retain your own ‘style’ wherever possible), food, interests, even how you like your tea or coffee and what name they should call you by. These seemingly little things help staff get to know you and understand you.
  • Try to avoid blaming others for your situation. If you have a carer or family/whānau then know that they have generally done their best to help you stay at home. Now, your needs are more than can be managed at home.
  • Rather than being resigned to the situation and letting others make decisions for you; let people know what you do and don’t like. Your opinions matter. In the longer term you will feel better for sharing them.
  • Talking to someone independent may help. The manager of the home may be able to refer you to a pastoral worker, social worker or other professional who will listen and may be able to offer some coping strategies. Your conversations with them will be confidential, and the service should be free.
  • Alternatively, talk to someone who is a good listener and non-judgmental. You may find you repeat yourself but that can be part of the healing process. A helpful listener will acknowledge your story without trying to ‘straighten you out’ or ‘calm you down’.
  • If you have given yourself reasonable time (a month or two) and tried everything you can and you’re still feeling down, let staff know or talk to your doctor. Depression can be an issue for some who live in a care home. Make sure however that your sadness isn’t due to it being a mismatched home. If it is, you can move. The service initially involved in coordinating your services will explain the process.
  • Being positive While you may have had some concerns about going into a care home, you will find that once you have settled in there are many aspects to appreciate and enjoy in a good home, such as:
    • Lots of opportunities to make new friends, both with other residents and staff.
    • Health conditions may stabilise or improve as medical conditions and medication will be monitored and nutritious meals provided. Some homes offer specialised programmes and physiotherapy to help you retain your abilities and sometimes, over time, improve them.
    • New experiences may be possible. The growing number of older people learning to use computers is evidence of this. Some older people even learn these skills after taking up residency in a home. So being in a care home does not mean that modern technology is beyond your reach.  Increasingly, care homes are making computer technology available to residents. Even if you can’t or do not want to use computers yourself, staff will often help you reap the benefits of them. They can do this by sending/receiving emails or setting up video calls for you so you can stay in touch with those who use the internet.
    • You shouldn’t have any worries about your general comfort. Your home should be warm, secure and comfortable.
    • You will have no further worries about maintaining your own home and garden.
    • Most homes provide opportunities to go on outings to places such as the local cafe, RSA, park or beach, for those able to manage this. There may be a small cost for such outings.
    • The home will provide a range of activities during the week, and some have regular ‘happy hour’ clubs.
Updated: 8 Feb 2024
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