The Family Transition Program developed by Oxford County’s Woodingford Lodge helps those on the wait list prepare and transition into long-term care.

It’s a difficult decision to make: choosing to move a spouse or aging parent into a long-term care facility.

But transitions are usually easier to manage when you know what to expect and how to help a loved one feel more at home.

That’s the goal for a new program in Oxford County.

The Family Transition Program is the first of its kind in Canada.

Future residents and their families are able to visit and attend events at the Woodingford Lodge, before actually moving in.

“What we do differently is allow them to come in, and see what’s available. That way they’re more at ease when they do get into a communal setting,” says Tina Gray, the program’s coordinator. “It’s extremely important for them to have that little bit of transition, especially because they’re scared and grieving.”

The program has been around since August of last year.

There are currently 15 participants, and of those, five have already transitioned successfully.

Mary Saunders, who suffers from dementia, is one of the current participants.

“We have fun with everybody,” Saunders says. “You can always make new friends; it’s a way of learning again.”

The program was also created to help families prepare for the big life change.

“It gives them support also,” says Gray. “Out in the community, families don’t always get that extra support. This way, they can come in and see what long-term care really is, and the benefits of what they’ll be seeing when they get into long-term care.”

Saunders’ daughter, Janet, likes that the program helps her socialize.

“Mom has the opportunity to meet seniors her own age,” she says. “The anxiety that everyone has for their loved one in order to transition to a potential nursing home, or a facility is very high.”

She says the staff help her mother feel like she matters.

“They always welcome her, ask her how she’s feeling,” Janet says. “It makes her feel very special and individual amongst a crowd of people.”

Once placement becomes available, the Family Transition Program will assist with moving the resident in.

“I can’t say enough positive things about it,” says Janet. “The program is still fairly new, and I think as many people that can be part of it should be.”

Before the program existed, people were put on a waiting list for up to two years. Then, when a bed became available they would have to make a decision and transition within 48 hours. If not, they would be pushed to the bottom of the wait list.

“The program enables residents to come in with a history, a file, and know some of the behaviors we might be trying to alleviate prior to admission,” says Gray.

She says some of those behavioral characteristics are anxiety, depression, and stress.

In Oxford County 17 per cent of new admissions require external services, such as on-call physicians, pharmacological solutions and hospitalization. With the program in place, staff hope that number will be on the decline.

They are tracking metrics such as cognitive assessment scores, rate of depression and care giver burn out.

Staff say the statistics are showing improvement already.