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