You’ve thought about it, talked about it, and very likely, worried about it. Now the day is drawing near for your spouse, parent or other loved one to move into the dementia care community you’ve chosen. While there are important and positive reasons to make this life change, it is a significant one that can be emotional for all involved. In working with individuals and families on this situation over the years, I have found that a number of steps can help in easing the transition:
1. Explore dementia care options early in your family’s journey with the disease. Be sure to involve the person living with the disease in this planning and deal with any concerns, fears or reluctances head-on as a family. Many people living with dementia worry about the time when their care will become burdensome to those close to them and really want to be involved in planning for the time when they can no longer weigh-in. Use this early stage planning time to solidify what their desires and preferences are.
Here’s an exercise you can try with your loved one. Ask them to write down the five things they need to live well with dementia and then consider these as you plan. For instance, if your loved one writes “being with my dog,” then you know to search for a community that accepts pets. Remember this wise adage from someone living with dementia: “Nothing about me without me.”
2. Have open, honest conversations leading up to the move. We all are naturally inclined to avoid uncomfortable subjects, but it is best to talk with your loved one about what’s going to happen and remind them of their role in the decision. They have the right to know and while the discussion may be hard, you will feel better for having been forthcoming.
One way to make this discussion easier is by involving your doctor, because if a physician recommended the move, the news might be better received. As you talk with your loved one about the move, emphasize that they will still be part of the family; living in a different place doesn’t change this. While you may find yourself having this discussion with your loved one repeatedly, it should be easier as you become more accustomed to and comfortable with what you are saying.
3. Try to reduce the surprise factor in other ways. Ideally, your loved one was involved in choosing the community; if they were not able to do so, it’s best that they visit in advance, perhaps enjoying a meal in the dining room or even spending a few nights through respite care. Respite stays are often a very successful way to ease the transition. Even if their memory doesn’t allow them to recall those events, it will still help in developing relationships and a comfort level at the community.
4. Create a familiar environment in their new space. Plan to set your loved one’s apartment up in a pattern that’s as close as possible to the way it is at home; working ahead of time from a floor plan is very helpful. For example, if the nightstand at home is to the right of the bed, place it that way now. Put a well-loved comforter on the bed and decorate the room with familiar items. The similarity to home provides psychological comfort and reinforces the familiar routine that helps those living with dementia best manage on a daily basis.
5. Respect and embrace feelings the day of the move: The team at the dementia care community should be well-prepared to receive your loved one on moving day, warmly welcoming them and working to get them acclimated to their new home. However, understand that this can be a tough day for you and for them. Your loved one may be reluctant, even refusing to get out of the car to go into their new home. Be patient and allow them to experience and share their feelings with you, even if it means the process moves more slowly. Talk again about how this change in living situation does not alter being part of the family and that it will improve their daily life and health. In my experience, the anger or resentment expressed on move-in day does pass with time as folks get acclimated to their new surroundings.
6. Recognize your own emotions. This is a tough day for families too. Allow yourself time to adjust to your “new normal” as well. As a daughter or son, you might be feeling guilt; if you are the spouse, you may be facing the loneliness of a now-empty house and questions about your life moving forward. You may feel some relief and a let-down after the stress of the experience. All of these emotions are natural and shouldn’t be ignored. Allow yourself to experience them and don’t hesitate to talk about them with good friends, a pastor, a support group or another understanding ear. Our Clare Bridge associates have helped many families through this transition and can also offer you much support—lean on us.
While the move to a dementia care community will benefit your loved one and the whole family, it is a major change. The considerations I’ve described above can go a long way in smoothing this transition and making it as successful as possible.