Moving & Downsizing

For seniors, moving can feel like loss, experts say
By Carol Hopkins, The Daily Oakland Press, April 24, 2005

After residing for 11 years in their spacious Farmington Hills apartment, octogenarians Rosevelyn and Al Lieberman decided to move into an independent living facility developed for seniors.

"Our needs have changed, I had some medical problems," explained Rosevelyn, 84. "We'd gotten older and at our new location, we have everything right on the premises."

The Liebermans, whose four grown children live outside of Michigan, began the daunting task of downsizing.

"I'm a pretty upbeat person," said Rosevelyn Lieberman. "But there was dissension between my husband and myself. He's a pack rat, and a book (lover). He reluctantly contributed some of his books to charity. In a way, it was heart-wrenching."

Moving a senior relative can be one of a child's biggest challenges, say people who have been through it.

It helps to learn from others' experiences, many observers say.

Annie Frisch of Lake Angelus helped her 81-year-old mother, Jane Huber, move from a two-story bungalow into a manageable condominium last fall.

"A friend said you don't want to go (into moving) like it's dying," Frisch says.

"It's all in the way you present it. We talked about it and how it would be so exciting and so positive. She was very involved in choosing colors for the new place. Once she set her mind to it, she saw it as an adventure."

Most older movers stayed in the same county while 18.8 percent moved to another state, according to a study conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration on Aging.

Between 1995 and 2000, nearly 23 percent of older persons had moved, compared with nearly 48 percent of people under 65.

Moving like 'grieving'

Experts who deal with the elderly urge children of seniors to be aware of the effects of moving.

Moving, in a way, is like grieving, says Dr. Roberta Toll, a Bingham Farms psychologist.

"When you're giving away those things in later years and going to another place, you're realizing your life is ending or not in the middle."

LouAnne Audette, who runs the Highland Township-based company Moving Forward, which assists seniors in their moves, remembers coping with a 100-year-old woman who balked at moving.

"This woman and her 97-year-old sister needed to move to senior independent living. The 100-year-old was very mistrustful."

When it came time for the move, "the 100-year-old wouldn't let me touch anything without her being there. She was very confused and quite difficult.

"She wouldn't let me unpack, wanted to do it herself."

Audette's team completed the job. Later, Audette learned that the woman's family convinced her to get rid of the overload of items she had brought into the new apartment.

Pace yourself

Peg Guild, president of Assisted Moving Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., advises clients to pace themselves.

"We tell clients and potential clients to leave at least two weeks of overlap time between moving day and the closing on the house they are selling. The best situation is waiting until after the move to list the house for sale."

She also encourages people to start using all those "good" things they have been saving, such as the good china or the good towels.

Says Guild, "We tell them, 'Now is good.' "

Guild reported she recently compared notes with a colleague, Mary Jo Zeller of Gero Solutions in Chicago, another senior moving company.

Zeller commented that her company is busy in the winter months - often because of "crisis moves" when someone has fallen on ice and broken a bone, or there's an ice dam on their roof and "they realize they don't want to deal with contractors any longer," Guild states.

Advance planning

Audette, who is trained as an occupational therapist, says advance planning is the key to a good move.

She brings a magnetized board to pre-move meetings with clients, and uses it to show how their furniture will fit in the new location.

"Once they realize they can't take (certain furniture or possessions), that really helps," Audette asserts. "Then they can start to sort and know what they have space for. That starts the whole process."

Many clients, she believes, are genuinely pleased about their moves.

"They're going to something brand-new and clean, to a place where they're not so lonely with people around and something to do," she says.

Other times, she reveals, people are "anxious, very anxious. That's where we can help relieve their fears."

Rosevelyn Lieberman says she believes the toughest part of a move is disposing of accumulated items.

"We had to get to the point where we could pack."

The "stuff" being moved represents a person's "history," says Toll, "the tangible things of your life.

"Those things are part of their lives and if you have to give those up, that is very, very difficult."

Children can help

Toll advises children helping parents move to not overreact.

"Realize (some emotion) is normal. Take it much slower and go over what will happen. Let them have some input. Don't come in and say we're getting rid of all this and you're moving.

"Let them have some choice in the process, if they can. Remember, the other thing at that age is you're losing control so any control (they can have in moving) is important."

Audette's company brings in a crew to pack a house in one day and then unpack it the next.

"We (assisted) a woman in Birmingham. She had four complete sets of china, glass on every table, fancy artwork, computer."

Audette had eight packers working over a 10-hour span.

Thorough sorting saves money, she stresses.

"Why pay to move it?" she asks.

Over in Royal Oak, Annie Frisch's mother is happily living in her new condo, close to her church.

"I'm thrilled for her," says Frisch. "I'm proud that she went along with it."

On Novi's east side, Rosevelyn Lieberman is excited about her new arrangements which, at the facility she chose, includes one prepared meal a day.

"I'm going to turn my stove into a planter," she says, laughing at the thought.

She advises children of seniors to be supportive and helpful if their parents decide to change residences.

"Do not to treat them like children," she says.

As for her new location, there are so many planned activities for residents, she has to consult her planner before making appointments.

She states, "Not for a moment have I regretted the move or that it was time to do it."