Gift to ease the transition
November 5, 2017 9:05 AM   Subscribe

My mother recently moved from a 3-bedroom home to a studio apartment in an independent-living facility. I'd like to come up with a Christmas gift that helps her feel happy in her new home.

My father passed away in February. He had been a career military officer, so while we were growing up we moved frequently. We never lived in a single home for more than two years.

After his retirement, my parents moved to upstate New York and kept a home for more than 20 years. My mother decided it was too much for her, and I spent several weekends up there helping her get rid of lots and lots of stuff so she could move into a complex for seniors that has free-standing homes, independent-living apartments, assisted-living apartments, and a wing for people with dementia and severe memory loss.

Is hasn't been quite what she expected--she's still alert and active, and finds few of the residents turn out to be her peers. She's adjusting to living in a much smaller space. I would love to give her something for Christmas that would help make her first holiday in her new home a special one. Virtually all the space she has is filled with things selected as especially meaningful from the possessions she acquired over her lifetime. She doesn't need anything and probably doesn't want to displace anything she has.

If I don't find anything else, something consumable liked baked goods or sweets absolutely would be fine, but I am wondering if anyone else has discovered that there was a gift that really helped a parent deal with this particular change in life, radically changing her physical surroundings while still mourning the loss of a spouse.
posted by layceepee to Human Relations (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you live close? Maybe something like a subscription to the theater? I gave one to my elderly mom and then took her to dinner and the theater every month. She really looked forward to it, etc and I think it was a good reminder that there's lots to see and do out there.
posted by beccaj at 9:11 AM on November 5, 2017 [12 favorites]

Is writing something she'd be interested in? A nice journal so that she could write her feelings, thoughts, concerns. Or even stationary so that she could write to others who she wants to keep in touch with. I know that we have e-mail, cellphones, computer, etc. But some nice paper stock and a nice writing pen.
posted by Fizz at 9:16 AM on November 5, 2017

What about a wireless digital picture frame? You could put a mixture of old photos (that might be out of sight in the smaller place) and new photos (to feel connected to the rest of the family), and add new ones via the web. I assume that the facility has wifi.
posted by mercredi at 9:16 AM on November 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Would she enjoy a high quality digital picture frame loaded with a mixture of art and photos from her life? That can help with limited space while being something that can help make the place a little different all the time. You can also get a similar effect by adding any number of media devices to an existing TV.

Some elderly people find voice controlled systems such as the Echo or Google Home easier to interact with than a computer or tablet - something like that doesn't take up a lot of space and can add easy access to a lot of things like audio books, podcasts, and music.

If she can find a few peers with similar mental capacity, maybe a few board games? Tsuro is easy and low stakes but entertaining. Or Forbidden Island? This list has a few other ideas.
posted by Candleman at 9:18 AM on November 5, 2017

If she doesn't already have one, a laptop or tablet computer would be an excellent choice. Similarly, you might see if anything from the Great Courses would engage her. Or a membership in a nearby gym.
posted by DrGail at 9:27 AM on November 5, 2017

For one dollar I purchased a ceramic pumpkin with autumn leaf cutouts. This is not usual for me, but I think if I could find a ceramic Christmas Tree kind of thing, that accommodated a tea candle, I might like that for my studio apartment. They do make little wood and wire trees, that you can hand ornaments on with a small light set, for tiny apartments. You could put on a few ornaments, or if you kept some, put them on. I did this for an older friend of mine. Then the whole thing fits in a small plastic box, for next year. This tree I mention is only 18 inches high at the most, but it does the whole job, and set up is two minutes max.
posted by Oyéah at 10:09 AM on November 5, 2017

If she's used to having a yard, look into community garden plots nearby. Maybe the place she's in right now already has garden plots or shared spaces available, even. Then give a gift certificate to a local plant nursery and a promise to come help her prep for winter and plant in spring if you're relatively close. This will introduce her to folks around town of all ages and keep her in touch with the passage of the seasons in addition to all the benefits of physical activity and time outdoors, but not burden her with a lawn to keep up. Some community gardens I've seen have shared tool sheds too, which is pretty swank and would be ideal for her lack of storage.

Really though going from a three bedroom house to a studio apartment is an enormous change, regardless of age or loss of spouse. I don't know that there is anything that can really help concretely with that other than being supportive, helping her stay connected to friends and family, and giving it time.
posted by Mizu at 10:09 AM on November 5, 2017

Since she's more alert (and more active?) than the other residents, can you find a way to connect her to the external community? I don't know if there is a shuttle bus, but maybe a local newspaper subscription and some maps or something that helps her find cool things she can access nearby? I'm personally not religious, but a church group or a crafting group can be a place to meet more people.
posted by puddledork at 11:08 AM on November 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

Is hasn't been quite what she expected--she's still alert and active, and finds few of the residents turn out to be her peers. [...] I am wondering if anyone else has discovered that there was a gift that really helped a parent deal with this particular change in life, radically changing her physical surroundings while still mourning the loss of a spouse.

My company works with the elderly or disabled, placing them into assisted living communities ranging from independent living to memory care, and I have to tell you - every single person feels this way. It doesn't matter if they are the healthiest/youngest or oldest/sickest person at their new place, they always grumble that they are so much more youthful/active/alert/etc. and everyone else is just an old biddy/codger. Literally, people who have dementia will complain, bitterly, that people without dementia are too out of it for them to talk to!

It also doesn't matter how much material or social abundance there is to enjoy. People will move into most luxurious facilities with the best food, constant entertainment and outings, beautiful surroundings, fancy perks such as saltwater pools and personal trainers and beauty services - and they still feel the same way.

What I am saying is, there isn't anything you can buy for your mother that will make her feel differently. But, the good news, it will pass! Give it about 6 months and she'll settle in and feel much better. Or not, depending on her general disposition. But there ain't nothing you can do about it.
posted by rada at 2:12 PM on November 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'd set it up so that she got flowers delivered every month for the year. Season theater tickets or another cultural event subscription would no doubt be welcome too. Last, if she is still high functioning, I'd get her an iPhone with the Lyft app, attach it to my credit card and tell her to just go - those homes can be stifling, boring and isolating. Empower her to get out.
posted by Toddles at 2:19 PM on November 5, 2017 [7 favorites]

I made my mom a frame of a map of her city with a heart over her new home, and marked my house, my brother's house, and my sister's house with pictures of our families and the distance from her home to ours. It was cheesy but she seemed to like it.
posted by littlesocks at 3:18 PM on November 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Not a present, but a suggestion: When my grandmother moved to an assisted living facility, one of the things that helped immensely was access to a local bus, which she didn't have a her house. The bus stopped right at the facility, she would get on, sit next to someone new every time (she liked meeting new people), go to the grocery store, the library, the hair salon. Since she hadn't be able to drive in a couple of years, this was regained independence that she treasured. Check into local transit to see if a bus or transit van serve your mom's new home.

(She also started to make friends and fit in at her new home after a few months--going to programs, participating in crafts or puzzles, going to the in-house hair salon--and all that social activeness was very good for her.)
posted by carrioncomfort at 7:16 AM on November 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

This would be more of an add-on idea to some of the nice thoughts already suggested in this thread, but what about something that has a nice scent? Assisted living facilities often have either a really antiseptic smell or a funky kind of 'stale' smell, and a nice gentle scent that would cover that up and 'greet' her when she goes back to her space would probably be appreciated. A candle might not be best, as an open flame in a facility that probably has oxygen tanks in use is a risky call, but a diffuser of some sort might be welcomed. (And less beautifully but very practically, you might also stick a Bad Air Sponge or the like in the corner of her closet just to keep any funky odors from attaching to her clothes so that when she's out-and-about she feels fresh.)
posted by DSime at 8:07 AM on November 6, 2017

Is there something you could donate to the facility as a whole, like flowers for a common room, or board games for common use? Or, a game given to your mom, for sharing with others? It wouldn't have to have your name on a plaque, but it might foster some nice "oh, that's from my kid!" chitchat, and could help her start making friendships.
posted by jessicapierce at 11:12 AM on November 6, 2017

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