Helping Your Loved One Transition to Assisted Living

July 29

Transitioning a parent to a senior care community is not an easy decision. But as people age, they may increasingly need help with routine daily tasks. “When we notice our loved ones have difficulty with personal care, medication management, meal preparation, or housekeeping, that’s when we should turn to assisted living,” says Nora O’Brien, executive director, Willow Towers Assisted Living.

Daniel Zwanziger and family

Understanding the difficulty behind the transition, Willow Towers works closely with families to make it easier. Emily Chin’s story is a case in point. In late spring 2020, she and her siblings were growing increasingly concerned about their father, Daniel Zwanziger. There were signs he was experiencing cognitive decline. A resident of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Zwanziger left his apartment every day for walks, but would forget to handle essential errands, like food shopping. While the number of COVID-19 cases rose, he would forget to wear a mask and was not washing his hands frequently.

“All the things we were doing to keep ourselves safe, he wasn’t doing,” says Chin, a Larchmont resident. “But he loved walking around his neighborhood, and we didn’t want to take him away from that. Yet, we were increasingly worried about him navigating the city, especially during the pandemic.”

Choosing the right community

She also didn’t want to take him out of the city he’d lived in and worked in for his entire career. A National Science Foundation grantee, Zwanziger was an accomplished professor of physics at New York University up until he turned 85 last year. But when it became “increasingly clear” to his family that he wasn’t able to live independently, they began researching their options.

They sought a community with the highest caliber staff, quality care, opportunities for socialization, and good communication. They found what they were looking for at Willow Towers.

“Above all, we searched for a place with quality people,” says Chin. “We wanted him to be well cared for and feel comfortable. We have been incredibly thankful for everything the team has done to make him feel part of the community.”

Though socialization can be challenging with coronavirus restrictions in place, Chin says she has been impressed thus far. “They are doing the best they can to provide safe activities, a sense of normalcy, and a high quality of life for residents.”

The importance of move-in day

O’Brien notes that “First impressions are so important; we want new residents and their families to feel welcome before they even move in.” Willow Towers accepted his personal belongings and everything was unpacked before he arrived. Personal effects were arranged to make his apartment feel familiar. The family was greeted by their father’s care team and were welcomed like extended family.

“It couldn’t have gone more smoothly and that helped him get off to a great start,” noted Chin.

Get to know caregivers and staff and stay in touch with the team.

“It was important to us that the people spending time caring for our father get to know him,” said Chin. “We needn’t have worried; the team spent a great deal of time speaking to us and him. They wanted to know everything—his interests, his career, his family, his preferences.”

That strategy is key to integrating new residents into the community at Willow Towers, notes O’Brien. “We have a resident ambassador assigned to each new resident, who helps identify new activities to suit their tastes. There’s really something for everyone, and our ambassadors help them get involved and feel a part of things.”

Communication with families is a top priority for the Willow Towers staff. “We want families to know how their loved ones are doing. We notify them when there is a change in their condition, or just to let them know they had a good day. We communicate in whatever way works —text, email, FaceTime, or phone. We also send newsletters and post updates to our website,” adds O’Brien.

With opportunities to visit altered by COVID-19, Chin said this philosophy goes a long way. She’s been happily receiving frequent updates from his caregivers, including photos of him enjoying activities, which has reduced any anxiety about how her father was adjusting.

“We’ve heard about his nutrition, his social activities, and his physical exercise. We feel like we made the right decision. “