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A caregiver helps a loved one pack for memory care.

Key Items to Include on a Thoughtful Memory Care Packing List

12 minute readLast updated May 18, 2022
fact checkedon September 27, 2023
Written by Chacour Koop
Reviewed by Niki Gewirtz, senior living expertNiki Gewirtz is a senior new hire support specialist with A Place for Mom and has advised families for more than 20 years.
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Now that you’ve reached the decision to move a loved one with dementia into memory care, remember that the challenges you’re facing require a different set of considerations than what you might expect for other types of senior living. That’s because memory care communities provide specialized care and extra safety precautions. Talk with the community’s care staff about personal items that will complement memory-related therapies and activities — this could include music speakers or favorite games. Beyond that, everyday belongings such as comfortable clothing and cherished photos can go a long way in creating a new yet familiar and calming environment.

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What to pack for memory care

Developing a memory care packing list begins with choosing items that make your loved one feel comfortable. This could mean bringing something that offers physical comfort, such as a favorite pillow. Or it could mean packing an item to spark emotional comfort, like a family photo album. Keep this in mind as you’re sorting through belongings.

You’ll also want to communicate frequently with the community’s memory care staff. Of course, you’ll need to know basic information like the room size and items prohibited in the community. But you can also ask questions about specific therapies or activities, such as these:

  • What personal keepsakes might support therapies they offer?
  • Could your loved one’s old guitar help with music therapy?

Lastly, remember that changes in routine and environment can be especially difficult for seniors with dementia. You can help ease the transition to memory care in several ways. For example, consider boxing items or taking down photos while your loved one is asleep or out with friends to reduce the emotional impact.

Decor for a homelike living space

Many modern memory care facilities use human-centered design to create living spaces. This approach considers the ways an interior environment can positively affect someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.

Similarly, a family can help orient their loved one by packing items to personalize the memory care apartment. Consider asking your relative whether specific belongings are meaningful to help guide your decision-making. If possible, decorate and furnish the living space before moving in so it feels like home when they arrive.

Items to consider packing for a homelike memory care space include:

  • A favorite chair or love seat
  • Framed family photos
  • Decorations such as artwork or lamps
  • A meaningful houseplant, as long as it’s nontoxic
  • A comfy quilt or blanket

Belongings to assist with therapies

Memory care communities often use various therapies to help residents experiencing difficulty with symptoms of dementia. These may include music therapy, aromatherapy, reminiscence therapy, or art therapy.

Families can help their loved one by packing items to support memory care therapies, including the following:

  • An Alexa or other speaker device to play calming songs
  • Favorite lotions, oils, or balms to introduce familiar scents
  • A memory prop box with keepsakes to inspire happy recollection
  • Arts and craft supplies the senior is already accustomed to using
  • A photo album to leaf through pages of friendly faces

Items to continue favorite hobbies

Moving into memory care doesn’t mean your loved one with dementia has to stop activities they enjoyed at home. In fact, research suggests continuing hobbies like arts and crafts delays the development of memory problems, according to a study published in Neurology.[01]

Although memory care communities offer specialized activities for residents, families can pack items to keep their loved one occupied at other times of the day. This could help them develop healthier sleep patterns by replacing naps with engaging activities.

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Items to help keep your loved one active in memory care might include:

  • Books with large photos of scenery or favorite pastimes
  • A TV to watch familiar movies or shows
  • A senior-friendly tablet for entertainment and staying in touch with family
  • Small, simple puzzles they can complete with little assistance
  • A golf putting mat, ball toss, or other indoor-friendly game for those who enjoy sports

Comfortable clothing and specialized apparel

If your loved one moving into memory care has an expansive wardrobe, you may have a hard time deciding which clothes to pack. Start by picking out items they commonly wear around the house and during bedtime. These are likely the pieces of apparel they’ll use most and find most comfortable.

If your loved one struggles to dress themselves, consider purchasing adaptive clothing for seniors with dementia to help ease this daily task. You should also avoid packing clothes that have special washing instructions or have to be dry cleaned, so that staff can easily wash items that get soiled.

Consider packing these clothing items for memory care:

  • Comfortable, nonslip shoes without shoestrings to help prevent falls
  • Anti-strip clothing if they tend to disrobe at inappropriate times
  • Shirts and pants with Velcro fastenings to reduce confusion while dressing
  • Soft, comfy pajamas to encourage restful sleep
  • Comfortable loungewear, since verbalizing discomfort may be difficult

Here’s one final but important step to remember: Clearly mark your loved one’s name on their clothing, even if discreetly on the inside tags, so that staff know where to return items when residents forget a sweater or jacket in a common area, or if roommates mix up any clothes.

What to avoid when packing for memory care

When family members help a parent with dementia pack, it’s easy to overlook the fact that memory care is a specialized environment with safety considerations that typically aren’t part of the moving process. This means certain common items should be left out — or at least given extra attention — as you’re preparing for the move:

  • Family heirlooms or other valuable items could get hidden or lost unintentionally. These might include a handmade quilt or expensive, antique jewelry.
  • Throw rugs or other nonessential, decorative touches can be a tripping hazard. In general, it’s a good idea to pack minimally to avoid overcrowding the new apartment and overstimulating your loved one with clutter.
  • Personal toiletries should be labeled with your loved one’s name. Memory care staff typically store potentially harmful items separately and lock them up, so that residents don’t have unsupervised access and try to drink their shampoo or mouthwash, for example.
  • Scissors, tweezers, nail clippers, and letter openers are examples of items that can be dangerous for people with advanced dementia. Memory care communities usually have safety guidelines for these types of household objects, so be sure to ask the staff before the move.

How to downsize for memory care

Deciding which items to keep and which to lose may be one of the most difficult parts of moving a loved one into memory care. However, try to think of downsizing as a way to create more space for the items that truly matter.

Here are a few downsizing tips from the National Association of Senior & Specialty Move Managers and other senior moving experts.[02]

Start early

At first, focus on the usual problem areas like the attic, basement, garage, and closets. Starting in these areas can make for a smoother finish.

Donate items

Ask your loved one if they’d like to donate certain treasures to favorite organizations or special people in their life. Seeing valued possessions in the hands of friends and family members can help ease the process.

Digitize photos and videos

You’ll probably find boxes and boxes of photos when downsizing. Stores or online services can help digitize them. Or, if you decide to move hard copies of the photos to a family member’s house rather than digitizing, consider swapping out favorites in a scrapbook to bring to your loved one for reminiscence therapy.

Follow the one-year rule

If your loved one hasn’t used a household item within the past year, there’s a strong chance they also won’t use it in memory care. However, this applies to common-use items such as clothes, not to keepsakes.

Snap photos

Typically, larger items won’t fit into memory care apartments, but you can still keep them — virtually. Take photos of these bulkier possessions and arrange them in your loved one’s new home to inspire happy memories. This could be a favorite porch swing or family dining table, for example.

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Think about their new home

While you’re downsizing, consider your loved one’s new daily routine. Memory care typically offers meals, housekeeping, laundry, exercise classes, and more. Will you need to keep belongings related to these activities?

Find professional help

Hiring a senior move manager can help organize the downsizing process. Additionally, they may offer relocation services to donate possessions to charities or help sell unique items to specialized buyers.

Other resources for the memory care transition

As you know, downsizing and making a memory care packing list is just one part of moving a loved one into memory care. You’re likely dealing with many other aspects of the move, and you may have questions about additional topics.

These additional resources can help you:

  • Ease the transition. Read about 10 ways you can make the move into memory care smoother for your loved one and yourself, including questions to ask your community’s staff.
  • Talk with your loved one. Communication will be highly important throughout the transition. Learn about ways to speak to someone with dementia more effectively — and things to avoid.
  • Keep yourself healthy. Although your role as a primary caregiver may be ending, the stresses you feel about a parent with dementia will continue. If you don’t have a support group, this article includes more than 20 places you can go for help.

For families still searching for a memory care community, A Place for Mom offers a free consultation service. Our Senior Living Advisors can connect you with memory care communities and other resources near you.

SHARE THE ARTICLE

  1. Roberts, R.O., Cha, R.H., Mielke, M.M., Geda, Y.E., Boeve, B.F., Machulda, M.M., Knopman, D.S., & Peterson, R.C. (2015, May 05). Risk and protective factors for cognitive impairment in persons aged 85 years and olderNeurology, 84(18).

  2. National Association of Specialty and Senior Move Managers. It’s so much more than moving.

Meet the Author
Chacour Koop

Chacour Koop is a former copywriter at A Place for Mom, where he published articles focused on Medicare, Medicaid, dementia, and wellness with a hope that other families can use the information to improve their lives. As a former family caregiver, Chacour Koop strives to bring practical knowledge about senior care to readers who are navigating this complex topic. Before writing about senior living, he was a journalist with bylines in The Associated Press, Miami Herald, Sacramento Bee, and dozens of other publications. He earned a degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield.

Edited by

Danny Szlauderbach

Reviewed by

Niki Gewirtz, senior living expert

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