Moving a Parent to Memory Care: 10 Tips to Ease the Transition

Kara Lewis
By Kara LewisJanuary 21, 2021
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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. Teepa Snow, a dementia educator with more than 40 years of experience, and Mary Noack, who has helped hundreds of families find senior care with A Place for Mom, share their advice for facilitating a smooth transition to memory care. Learn how to move your mom or dad to memory care in 10 simple and compassionate steps, from what to bring to a memory care facility to how to stay connected.

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.

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. “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.

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.

Dementia educator Teepa Snow reaffirms this advice, but recommends that family members 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. It also provides an opportunity for caregivers to engage in redirection and practice asking questions, some of Snow’s main dementia communication tips.

Snow gives examples. “Say, ‘Would you like this pillow?’ Would you like this one picture?’” This tactic allows your mom or dad 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 also marks a milestone — 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 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. “The person wants what they had before, whether it was working for them or not,” Snow says. “Say, ‘I hear you. This is really hard.’”

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, 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 being engaged?”

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

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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 you — 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 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 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 with cognitive decline. As tempting as that is, Snow encourages caregivers to focus on what they still love about their senior family member, not how the dementia has altered them. “No matter how much has changed, they’re still somebody with something to offer,” she says.

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. Snow cautions families to expect a window of four to six weeks for seniors to become fully acclimated. 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, Snow highlights the individualized nature of every transition. There’s no exact formula for assuring a memory care facility is the right fit — but instead multiple opportunities to evaluate and readjust. Snow approaches these moments with one key question: What did go OK?

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, says Snow. With a little flexibility, families can explore shifts within the community or seek a new facility that may be a better match.

Moving a parent to memory care during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupts many routine elements of moving a parent to memory care. Instead of taking a firsthand role in the moving process, caregivers may have to leave the bulk of tasks to the staff. New residents might also have to quarantine upon move-in, and visitors will face additional screening and safety protocols.

These circumstances make clear communication even more essential. When moving a parent to senior living during the COVID-19 pandemic, Noack recommends asking the following questions:

  • Is there a quarantine period for seniors moving into a memory care community? If so, how long are new residents expected to isolate?
  • What role can families play in the move while maintaining safety and following established protocols?
  • What activities and programming opportunities are in place for residents during the pandemic?
  • In the event of a confirmed COVID-19 case, how will communities keep residents safe and prevent a potential outbreak?
  • How does the community handle caregiver visits during COVID-19? Are visitors expected to quarantine ahead of time, take a test, wear a mask, or see their senior loved one in an outdoor setting? Be clear on these expectations and regulations.

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.

Kara Lewis
Kara Lewis

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