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What to Expect When Moving to a Memory Care Facility

July 31, 2015

Lessening the anxiety of a move to memory care is especially important. You will want to create a homelike space even before your loved one moves in. Knowing how to prepare, what to expect, and how to support the adjustment will make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone involved.

Getting ready for move-in day

As you prepare your loved one's new living space, take special care that it is organized and includes familiar, recognizable belongings that can provide a sense of security and ownership. 

Moving in

The best way to reduce stress on move-in day is to have a familiar person with your loved one throughout the admission process. Ideally, if two people can come, one can attend to the administrative details while the other remains with your family member to help them meet staff and discover the environment. When it is time to leave, follow your familiar customs, but avoid saying "goodbye." Do not drag out the leave-taking or try to bring it to a happy climax, as this may not be possible.

Visit during the adjustment phase

Work with staff to decide how frequently to visit during the first few weeks. Some people may need time alone to settle in. Other may be anxious and need to see you more often. It is often good to try one visit very soon after move-in. If it seems to cause a difficult response, wait a few days and try again. Certain times of the day, when your loved one might feel more energetic or sociable, may be better. Staff can help you figure that out. Initial visits should be relaxed and short. Keep them simple; your presence is enough. Find a quiet, comfortable place without distractions. Just touching, holding a hand, or massaging the back can be meaningful. Your mood affects their mood. Stay calm, even if there are problems. Be alert to signs that your loved one might feel tired or irritated and be prepared to end the visit before things become more tense. Finally, give yourself permission to have a bad day as well. If you need to shorten a visit to take care of yourself, that's OK. Quality of time trumps quantity of time. After the adjustment period, visits will likely fall into established routines that work for everyone.

Managing expectations

In spite of your good preparation, expecting an easy transition is probably unrealistic. The transition will more likely be a challenging process. Adjustment will take time. It is not uncommon for it to take 30 to 90 days for older adults to adjust to new surroundings; for those with dementia, it can take even longer. But people are remarkably resilient, and both you and your loved one will adapt. Know that the adjustments may be gradual and subtle. Be prepared to celebrate the small successes.

Partnering with the caregiving staff

Care comes down to people. The more you get to know care providers, the better you'll feel about the care decision. Get to know your loved one's caregivers and continue to share your loved one's personal history, accomplishments and talents, likes and dislikes, and stories. This helps the caregivers get to know your loved one and better understand how they would wish to be cared for. You can offer the insights that can help provide the best care possible. Let the staff know you depend on them for their kindness and care. Thank them often; check in with positive observations, not just when there is a concern. When questions or concerns come up, as they will, be respectful. Consider yourself as part of the team and ask yourself what you can do to improve the situation. Understand there are no "magic bullets" for dealing with adjustment problems. Plan to work together with the staff to find creative solutions.