Working with seniors has taught me a few things….When training our staff, or talking to family members, we remind them of the small steps that make such a big difference and lead to a more successful move.
- Let the senior help. This is so important. Since I don’t love the word senior and it seems so impersonal, let’s call this person Joe. Who doesn’t want to help, and especially contribute when it is your own move you are dealing with. When you walk through the door with a box of packing paper, trash bags, and boxes and Joe says, “here, let me help” or “what can I take”, your job is to listen and let Joe help. Hand him a lightweight bag and let him participate. Even the other day, my Dad was getting out of a chair, and I offered to help him up but the response was “no, I need to do this on my own.” He was right. There are times when we need to “back-off” even though we might be able to accomplish the task more quickly and efficiently.
- Plan the day. At the beginning of the day, take time to check-in and discuss the goals. What is top priority for today. Are there any tasks that Joe has been having lots of difficulty with?
- Listen to the stories. As you review item after item, you will hear lots of stories. You’ll hear about who gave it to them, why it is important, what special function it may have played in their life. Respect Joe and his stories. If you are in a rush or don’t have time, he will think you don’t care. He wants and needs to tell the story, and it is your job to listen and value his story. Show empathy and understanding, even if it slows you or the process down.
- Assign tasks. If you are lifting heavy items or weeding through papers, don’t let Joe be idle. Suggest something for Joe to do in a comfortable spot. Can you bring a chair to a bookshelf and have him pull out the books he is willing to donate? There are decisions that only Joe can make so put him to work.
- Give them control. Let Joe know that your role is to be his advocate and he is still in control. If you are too controlling, it can backfire and he may feel as though his autonomy has been taken away. Even though you are trying to be a problem solver and doing it out of love; just consider the way you are going about it and keep communication open. Let Joe know he is the final decision maker. No one likes to be taken over by someone who is too controlling. It is imperative that Joe is involved in the decisions of what to keep, donate, sell etc.
- Write things down. Moving is a confusing time for anyone. Put dates of when donation companies are coming and what needs to be done to be sure they pick the items up. Does the garage door need to be opened at 7 a.m. that morning? Even write down his “homework” that he needs to do before he next sees you.
- Check in often. Do you feel what we are doing is productive and helpful? Do you need a break?
- Make suggestions. Are there things Joe might not have thought of yet i.e. would you like me to set up a donation pick-up; call movers to get them to come quote the job; fill out change of address forms etc. Contact your insurance company? Have Empathy: change is extremely hard for anyone but especially seniors. Thay are used to routines and if they move it might mean new doctors, drug stores, groceries, activities, etc.
- Take concerns seriously. When I was recently working with a client she wanted to pre-pay her January quarterly tax. Although it was only October, I could tell it was weighing heavily on her. So, why now just write the check and mail it?
- Homework. Give Joe some homework tasks for him to accomplish. Make it a realistic goal. Can he make 5 phone calls, or review all the paperwork on top of his desk before you meet again?
We all like to feel useful and by our very nature, all like to be contributors. So gently guide the process with mounds of patience, respect, admiration and empathy.