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Moving a Parent to Memory Care: 11 Tips to Ease the Transition

By Kara LewisMarch 15, 2022
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The process of moving a parent to memory care is often full of unknowns — but it doesn’t have to be. Mary Noack, who has helped hundreds of families find senior care with A Place for Mom, shares her advice on smooth transitions to memory care. If your loved one needs memory care, consider these 11 gentle steps to ease their transition.


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Key steps to take before moving a parent to memory care

Several important parts of moving a parent to memory care happen ahead of moving day. In advance, caregivers can focus on managing emotions, maintaining effective communication, and finding small ways to make new surroundings feel like home.

Ask about transitional memory care

Transitional care is designed for seniors with mild dementia symptoms. Even if your loved one is showing symptoms such as memory loss or confusion, their needs might still be met in assisted living. Transitional care is likely fitting if they need additional support for their memory loss but don’t need a fully secured environment for their safety.

So note: A dementia diagnosis doesn’t always mean an immediate need for memory care.

If your loved one is in a community that offers transitional care, it can delay or even eliminate the need to move them to a different community. Many communities with transitional care programs also offer memory care. These communities keep your loved one in a familiar environment, reducing confusion and agitation.

Even if your loved one needs memory care at a new facility, transitional care may ease the switch to different care in an unfamiliar place. Ask facility directors, your loved one’s doctor, or a geriatrician about transitional care if you’re concerned about your loved one’s memory.

Stick to a simple family script

Before the memory care move comes the memory care conversation. Likely, you’ll need to frequently remind your parent that they’re moving. Because moving to memory care often involves the whole family, many different voices and opinions may chime in, which can overwhelm seniors with dementia.

To curb disorientation and reassure your senior loved one, establish a script — or a straightforward, comforting response — that each family member can return to again and again.

“Be concise,” says Noack, who worked in five senior living communities before becoming a Senior Living Advisor with A Place for Mom. “Everyone in the family needs to use the same verbiage.”

Keep the message simple: You could tell your aging relative, “You’re going to your new home,” or “This is a place where you’ll be safe.”

Pack for your family member

Moving can be an emotionally turbulent experience for anyone, but it can be especially overwhelming for a loved one with dementia. The process of taking down pictures and boxing up beloved items only adds to the stress and disorientation. Packing when your parent isn’t present — whether they’re asleep, at an appointment, or spending time with friends — can minimize panic and outbursts, Noack says.

Personalize your parent’s living space

The memory care community you choose will become your family member’s new home. Noack encourages caregivers to create a homey feeling from the start by incorporating a senior’s decorations and personal items into the space before the move if possible.

“When the resident walks in and they see their belongings, that eases their anxiety,” Noack says.

Prioritize meaningful objects when considering what to bring to a memory care facility. Instead of moving all your parent’s belongings at once, start with a few to encourage comfort rather than clutter. This also provides an opportunity for caregivers to engage in redirection and practice asking questions.

For example, consider asking your parent if they’d like a specific pillow, or what memories a picture holds for them. This tactic allows your loved one to make their voice heard and to play an active role in their transition to memory care.

Tips for a smooth moving day for a parent with dementia

Just as family members should handle packing, they can shoulder key responsibilities on moving day to take the pressure off of their senior loved one. Moving day marks a milestone and is a time when you can set your parent up for future success. Also, it’s a great time to ensure everyone involved feels connected.

Encourage your loved one to socialize and participate

While you’re unboxing final additions to your loved one’s memory care room, they can explore the community and adjust to their new surroundings.

Aim to move during a memory care activity your loved one might enjoy, like an art class, singalong, or game of bingo. Experiencing the benefits of memory care right away can decrease moving day stress and give your family member an opportunity to meet friends and get a taste of their new daily routine.

Acknowledge your parent’s concerns and questions

On moving day, your parent may ask to come home, wonder why they have to be in memory care, or otherwise express distress.

In these situations, lean on empathy. Let your loved one know you understand how hard this transition is for them, and be supportive. Reaffirm how the situation will be beneficial in the long run without discounting their current emotions.

Talk with a Senior Living Advisor

Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.

Ask how they’re feeling about their transition to memory care

Emotional situations also stand out as an active listening opportunity. During these moments, delve into your family member’s mindset to deepen your understanding and bond.

“You want to meet them where they are,” says Noack. “Ask questions, like, ‘Where is home?’ They may describe it as the home they grew up in. When they’re upset and confused, ask questions about what they’re thinking and feeling.”

This approach to communication may help you know what to expect the next time your senior loved one is upset or disoriented, and it can provide insights into what’s causing these emotions.

Have important conversations with community staff

After moving a parent to memory care, the community’s staff will become an integral support system. On the day of the move, make a plan for continued communication and connection. Noack recommends asking these questions:

  • How will you help my parent transition?
  • What are my opportunities to see my loved one?
  • Do you have a process for sending updates to family members?
  • Do you record and share activities that show my loved one being engaged?

Express your gratitude to community staff for helping care for your parent as they acclimate, and for keeping you in the loop.

After the move: Continuing the transition to memory care

Even after you’ve moved your parent into memory care, you can take steps to help them thrive. Ease the transition for them — and for yourself — by continuing to reach out and monitoring how they’re adapting to the community. Avoid potentially triggering moments during your visits, and recognize that the transition may take time.

Stay connected in a way that’s healthy for you and your senior loved one

Communication and regular visits with your mom or dad show you’ll continue to support them and be present. However, communication may be challenging during the first weeks or months after the move. During visits and phone calls, your parent may ask to come home, become disoriented, or be hostile.

Reduce distress for seniors with dementia by following these tips when visiting their memory care community:

  • Visit at the right times. Whenever possible, opt for morning visits and avoid evenings. While people with dementia are generally more alert in the mornings, late afternoon can coincide with sundown syndrome.
  • Participate in programming and meals with your senior loved one. Visiting during a game, activity, or lunchtime can distract from potentially fraught emotions. It also marks a clear end point for the visit, making goodbyes easier.
  • Focus on the positive. It’s not just people with dementia who get frustrated. Caregivers can easily fall into negativity while navigating the challenges of supporting a loved one in cognitive decline. As tempting as that is, try to focus on what you still love about your family member, and remember the good times. While your parent’s behaviors may have changed since their dementia diagnosis, they’re still the same person.

Accept that the transition to memory care might take several weeks

Moving into a memory care facility marks a big change, one that requires time and patience from everyone involved. Expect an adjustment period for seniors to become fully acclimated to their new environment. During this time, family members should validate their loved one’s feelings rather than simply push past them.

Be open to reassessing needs, and embrace flexibility

Above all, recognize the individualized nature of every transition. There’s no exact formula for assuring a memory care facility is the right fit — instead, there are multiple opportunities to evaluate and readjust. Rather than focusing on the negatives, assess the things that are going well.

While adjustment challenges are normal, watch out for persisting red flags. If your parent has difficulty making friends or engaging in community activities, consider talking with staff to address concerns, then working together on a plan to overcome the problem.

If your loved one continues to express distress and asks to come home after six weeks, this may signal that they feel trapped or abandoned. With a little flexibility, families can explore shifts within the community or seek a new facility that may be a better match.

Learn more about how to move your mom or dad to memory care

A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Advisors have helped hundreds of thousands of families find the right senior living community. They can offer advice, share information about memory care amenities and costs near you, and even schedule virtual or in-person tours.

Sources: 

Ashbourne, J., Boscart, V., Meyer, S., Tong, C. E., & Stolee, P. (2021, April 29). Health Care transitions for persons living with dementia and their caregivers.BMC geriatrics.

Kelsey, S. G., Laditka, S. B., & Laditka, J. N. (2010). Caregiver perspectives on transitions to assisted living and memory care.American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementia.

Rose, K. M., & Lopez, R. P. (2012, May 31). Transitions in dementia care: Theoretical support for nursing roles.The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing.

Author
Kara Lewis

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