Moving a family member with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease into a memory care household can be an emotional process. Even when you know it’s the best move for your loved one, it’s often hard to help them understand why this new phase of her life needs to happen.
Creating a solid transition plan ahead of time can ease the stress for both your loved one and the rest of the family.
Preparing Your Family Member
The first conversation with your loved one about moving out of her home can be difficult. That’s why it’s important to remember it’s usually better to gently inform them about their new living situation, rather than ask them what they think about moving to a memory support community.
In fact, it helps to have a “script” prepared which family and friends are also aware of. It’s hard enough for the person in need of memory care to take in their changing circumstances. That distress would be compounded if different people give conflicting reasons for the move or describe the new retirement community differently.
Of course, those remarks should be consistent and upbeat. You can take your cues by reminding your loved one of the home upkeep responsibilities she will no longer have to worry about, along with the aspects of the new home that will most appeal to them.
Involve your family member in packing for the move to a memory care household if you think it will be helpful for them. Many older people find it disorienting and upsetting to see their home being changed, as well as their special items being boxed up. Sometimes it’s better to make the packing decisions while your family member is having a nap or is perhaps on a prearranged outing.
The memory care center will likely have provided you with a checklist of suggested items. Often, their new home will have basic furniture and appliances. Keep the focus on decorative items like bedspreads, throw pillows, artwork, and a few “knick knacks.” You may also want to include smaller, familiar objects like a favorite reading lamp or a bureau tray with their favorite hairbrush and beauty items.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by the selection process, keep it simple. You can always add more items later if the living space has the room. For now, try to recreate the sights or scents of home. That might mean recreating your loved one’s favorite color combination or setting up their favorite potpourri or herbal mist.
Easing Into the First Day
As with any move, the first day will likely be the hardest for your loved one. Try to involve her in decision-making as you’re unpacking: “Which wall would be best for this mirror, Mom? Do you want your socks in the top drawer like normal?”
Once the unpacking is handled, draw your loved one’s attention to the elements of the retirement community you suspect will interest her most. Perhaps you could visit the garden or sign her up for a game of bridge. (As always, follow their lead. If they’re too withdrawn or agitated to focus on these details, for now, don’t force it.)
Above all, be emotionally prepared for demands to return “home,” especially as you’re leaving. This is an almost universal challenge that relatives of people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia face during this kind of transition. Try to stay as calm and reassuring as possible. Keep repeating that you understand how hard it is for them but that this new home is the best place for them.
The transitional period in the days and weeks after you’ve moved your family member into a memory support community can be challenging for everyone involved. But a few basic approaches can keep that period less emotionally draining.
Naturally, you’ll be anxious to visit, especially if you live locally. If possible, take your cues from the team at the memory care center, who may be able to tell you when your loved one seems the most receptive to interacting. Otherwise, meals and events are often a good time to visit because they give everyone something to focus on. They also have a natural endpoint that may make your family member less distressed as you prepare to leave.
You and the team at the memory care community can work together to make your loved one more comfortable by staying in frequent contact. Ask them if she is interacting with others, eating properly, and participating in her care. Let them know if you have any observations which may help them.
At Episcopal Church Home, we welcome your family’s input and are here to offer any suggestions to supplement your existing transition plan. Of course, the transition to memory care is rarely an easy one for both the new residents and their families, but with a bit of planning, it can lead to a happier, more fulfilling life for your loved one.