There are many different ways that families handle communicating with their loved one about a move to memory care. The most successful plan will be designed to meet your loved one’s needs. Some family members don’t even tell the person they are going to move, knowing this could create undue anxiety. They bring the person to the new space once it is all set up and say, “Surprise! We found you this great new place to live, Mom!” This is usually followed by one of the advantages. “It’s closer to me; I’ll be able to visit more.” Or, if the person is worried about money, “It’s more affordable!” Of course some people are not too fond of surprises, so this approach will not necessarily work for everyone.
Other families are completely honest with their loved one about the need for “more care” and they even have their loved one participate in the move, i.e., carrying a few things to the new space on his or her walker. But telling a loved one about this too far in advance could backfire, making the person feel like they are being “kicked out” of their current home. Once the person moves into the new place, they may keep packing everything up, as they are still fixated on this idea that they have to move.
Do's and Don'ts
However you decide to handle the communication, make sure all family members are on the same page, and keep in mind the following guidelines:
DON’T keep reminding your loved one they are moving if it makes them anxious. You might try telling them once, in a matter of fact manner, to see how they take it. If it stresses them out to talk about a move, don’t keep bringing it up.
DO reassure the person that they will be getting more help. Because of their dementia, they may bring up the same concerns or fears over and over. Let the person voice their concerns, and be understanding in your replies, i.e. “I can see why you’re worried about that. We’ll figure it out.”
DON’T pull your loved one into the details of the planning and packing process. Don’t ask them to decide what to bring and what to leave behind. With memory loss, decision making and any process with multiple steps will present challenges. If you don’t already know which objects or knick-knacks are most important to your loved one, spend time observing what things around their home they use and enjoy on a regular basis.
DO work with a move manager. A great example comes from a family who had one daughter take mom out for a morning of shopping followed by lunch, while the other daughter was assisting the move manager. The move manager set up the new apartment to look almost identical to the room in the old house where mom spent most of her time. This is a very good idea! When they brought mom into her new apartment, she knew something was different, but she felt very much at home right away.
DON’T over-pack. Memory care apartments are small for a reason – large spaces with lots of “stuff” can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing for people with memory loss. A smaller space with a manageable amount of items in it eases the mind. Again, pay attention to what your loved one actually uses throughout the day and bring just what he or she needs. If your loved one misses something, you can always bring it later.
DO consider leaving the TV at home. As memory loss progresses, TV shows can be hard for people to follow. They can also be upsetting, as they can be confused with reality. Bring music, family photo albums and art or photography books instead – they are more therapeutic. Consider leaving valuables behind too. A person with dementia often picks something up, puts it down, and then forgets where it is. Save yourself the heartache of a missing priceless family heirloom by not bringing it to the new memory care apartment. If your loved one insists on having a wallet or purse, expect that these will be lost and you may need to resupply them in a jiffy! Having some extras ready to go for staff to grab is not a bad idea. Fake IDs and obsolete credit cards can be placed into them. But it might simply be enough to reassure the person that “everything is paid for” or that you’re handling all the bills. You can even write this information down for the person—staff can make multiple copies to give to your loved one when questions arise.
DON’T get started too late in the day. Try to get the move done so that your loved one is settled in their apartment by 2 or 3 p.m. at the latest. As the day progresses we all get tired, but a person with dementia will not cope as well as the rest of us. Enlist more moving help if you need the extra hands to be finished by 2 p.m. – it will make the transition smoother.
DO remember that people usually adjust quite well to their new environment, but that this could take around 2-4 weeks. Be reassured in knowing the staff in the memory care community is there to help your loved one settle into a comfortable routine. Because the new environment (not only the apartment but also the programming and the structure of the day) is designed to fit the needs of a person with dementia, you will start to notice your family member more at ease than they were before the move. When your focus returns to your relationship with your loved one, rather than the details of day to day caregiving, you will also be more content, knowing you have made the right decision.
Finally, remember it is futile to try to argue the person out of whatever feelings they have before, during, or after the moving process. The brain of a person with dementia is going to rebel against your logic and may become extremely frustrated and upset as a result. Be respectful of your loved one’s feelings throughout the process. When the person expresses fear, or sadness, or anger, nod and be understanding. You don’t have to “fix it” for them, but it will be helpful to validate their feelings by saying things like: “I can see you’re upset.” “Of course you’re angry.” “I bet I would feel that way too, if I was in your shoes.” “It sure is stressful to move.” “I’m sorry this is hard for you.” “We’ll get through it together.” “I wish I could help you feel better about this.” “I will do everything I can to help you.” And remember to tell your loved one that you love them!
Aurora Senior Living is managed by Ebenezer, Minnesota’s largest senior living operator. Ebenezer is the senior housing division of Fairview Health Services and has 100 years of experience serving older adults.
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