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How to Move a Parent with Dementia to Assisted Living: 10 Tips to Ease the Transition

11 minute readLast updated June 16, 2023
Written by Rebecca Schier-Akamelu
Reviewed by Adria ThompsonSpeech-language pathologist Adria Thompson is the owner of Be Light Care Consulting and specializes in creating easily digestible, accessible, and practical dementia content.
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Moving a parent with dementia to assisted living 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 for facilitating a smooth transition to assisted living or memory care. Some assisted living communities even offer a third option: a memory care wing or transitional memory care offered within the assisted living community. Whether they’re moving to a new community or within their current community, these 10 compassionate steps will help make the transition smoother.

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Moving situations for seniors with dementia

Some seniors with dementia can live in assisted living or in a memory care unit within an assisted living community, while others may thrive in a community dedicated to memory care.

The tips in this article focus on helping seniors who are moving from their home into a new community, but you can use them in any of the following situations:

  • Moving from home to an assisted living community. If your loved one is experiencing the early stages of memory loss, an assisted living apartment may still be a good fit for them. Try to find a community that offers on-site memory care therapies, such as physical or sensory activities and behavior management strategies, which can help residents adjust to their environment as future needs arise.
  • Moving from an assisted living apartment to a memory care suite in the same community. Some assisted living communities have an attached memory care wing, which will likely have extra safety features as well as a different group of specialized caregivers.
  • Moving from home or an assisted living community to a dedicated memory care community. As dementia progresses, your loved one may benefit from the innovative designs and safety and security features offered by memory care communities. Caregivers receive specialized training in dementia care, and seniors can enjoy specialized therapies to maintain their cognitive abilities.

Key steps to take before moving a parent to a memory care or assisted living community

Several important parts of moving a parent with dementia to assisted living happen ahead of moving day. In advance, caregivers can help a loved one prepare for assisted living by focusing on managing emotions, maintaining effective communication, and finding small ways to make new surroundings feel like home.

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 who have 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. “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 stress and disorientation. To minimize panic and outbursts, Noack suggests packing when your parent is asleep, at an appointment, or spending time with friends.

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Personalize your parent’s living space

The memory care or assisted living 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. Now is not the time to buy new furnishings — you want your loved one to have their familiar, well-loved items with them in their new home.

“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 an assisted living community or 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.

Keep in mind that you’ll want to take any boxes, bags, or suitcases with you. Having these items around are a visual reminder of leaving and may lead to confusion for your loved one. Some seniors might even try to pack once family members leave, which can lead to more confusion.

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 also marks a milestone — this is a time when you can set up future success for your parent and connection for everyone involved.

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 begin to adjust to their new surroundings.

Aim to move during a memory care activity your loved one might enjoy, like an art class, sing-along, 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.

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, as well as 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 into assisted living, make a plan for continued communication and connection.

Noack suggests asking these questions:

  • How will you help my parent transition?
  • What are my opportunities to see my loved one?
  • Do you have a process of sending updates?
  • Do you record and share activities that show my loved one interacting and staying 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, there are steps you can take 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. Try to 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 those 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 endpoint 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 with 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.

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Accept that the transition to memory care might take several weeks

Moving into assisted living or 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 an assisted living community 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 and 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 they feel trapped and abandoned. With a little flexibility, families can explore shifts within the community, such as moving from an assisted living apartment to a suite in the community’s memory care unit. As a last resort, you can seek a new memory care community that may be a better match.

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

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 assisted living and memory care amenities, provide a list of community costs near you, and even schedule virtual or in-person tours.

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Meet the Author
Rebecca Schier-Akamelu

Rebecca Schier-Akamelu is a writer at A Place for Mom. Her writing supports a person-centered approach to senior care and she’s written on a range of topics from home care to finances. She holds a certificate in digital media and marketing from Duke University and a bachelor’s degree from Creighton University.

Reviewed by

Adria Thompson

The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

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