The move to any new home can be overwhelming, but even more so when the move is to a care setting. For a person with dementia, changing the routine and moving to an unfamiliar environment can be particularly stressful; in fact, this transition can be challenging for both the family and the care recipient. Knowing how to prepare, what to expect, and how to support the adjustment can help to make the move as smooth as possible.
Prepare for the move
Become as knowledgeable about the setting as you are able prior to transition. Meet with key resources, including the move-in coordinator, nursing staff, and social worker, to get a good understanding of how the neighborhood works. Visit the area to observe and ask as many questions as you desire to gain a comfort level with the services provided. The more contact and information you have, the more confidence you will gain, in both the staff and the environment.
When you visit, talk to staff and provide them with insight into your loved one's personality, likes and dislikes, and personal history. Let the staff see how special and unique your family member is and how much you care about them. This knowledge will help the staff make a connection, even before the move-in. Thank the staff, in advance, for any special attention and reassurances they might provide to ease the transition. Consider whether to include your loved one on the pre-visit. Depending on your situation, it might make sense to bring them with you; however, if you believe the visit would only create more stress and anxiety, do not make the suggestion.
Talk about it
What you disclose to your loved one about the upcoming move is a decision you must make based on your best judgment. If you think it will help to talk about it each day for a week or so prior to the move, be sure to really listen to their concerns and fears. Be patient and understanding. Offer reassurance that you will continue to be part of their life. If you decide that it will only create worry in advance, plan to provide the information as clearly as possible when it becomes necessary. It might be helpful to decide on a simple statement about the move, since memory loss affects recall and you may need to repeat the phrase more than once. You might say "Mom, we love you very much. It is important that you live where you can be taken care of." This will be the hardest thing you will have to do, especially if the response is one of anger or results in begging not to go. Stay with the script and understand the emotions.
Understand the emotions
An individual with dementia or memory loss may not be able to fully appreciate the reason for the move or the long-term nature of the change. They may become angry or despondent. You may feel uncertain that you have made the best decision and wonder if you are doing the right thing. During the transition, complaints or dissatisfaction may be expressed. Your loved one may appear depressed, anxious, hostile, or withdrawn. This may make you feel as if the choice was not in their best interest after all. Try to put their responses into perspective. Oftentimes, these can be ways to express uncertainty or fear. Your loved one may just need you to listen and offer support and comfort. Try to really listen to the emotion behind the words. Never dismiss a negative comment or attempt to reason it away. Provide lots of reassurance. Use facial expressions, gestures, and comments to show you are paying attention. Often listening can be the most powerful solution, along with assurance that you are there for them. Sometimes a hug says it all. After your family member has had time to express their feelings, you may be able to refocus attention to another subject or activity. You will both need time to adjust and grieve. Be patient with your loved one. Be patient with the care team. Be patient with yourself. This is new for everyone.