Helping a parent with dementia settle into memory care

You’re planning to move your parent with dementia to a memory care unit at a retirement community, but you’re worried that they’ll have a hard time adapting to their new home. In fact, you’re beginning to have second thoughts about whether you should go ahead with the move at all.

It’s understandable. You’re probably experiencing a mix of emotions. Guilt may be among them. Chances are your parent is not too keen on the idea. You may have even been criticized by friends or family.

So, how do you move forward?

Staying the course can be hard

First of all, take a deep breath. Remind yourself why you decided a move to memory care was necessary in the first place. Were there incidents that caused you to question your parent’s safety where they are now? How will calling off the move address the problems they’re experiencing, especially as their dementia progresses? (Spoiler alert: it won’t.)

If family members have been giving you grief about the move to memory care, it’s likely because they don’t have a full picture – or don’t want to have a full picture – of how difficult it’s becoming to support your parent where they are now, day in and day out. If that’s the case, they’re not in a position to judge, so try not to put too much stock in their opinion.

If your parent is pushing back, it may be difficult to bring them around to your way of thinking. Reason and logic likely won’t work with them because of their dementia. Trying to sell it as an act of love may be equally unsuccessful. 

They may not understand the need for 24-hour care simply because they’re no longer able to identify the fact they have a problem. It’s not that they’re in denial. They genuinely believe they don’t need help.

If they’ve lost the capacity to decide where they should live, and you’re effectively making the decision for them, you may have to accept that they simply won’t like it, no matter how much you try to persuade them otherwise.

Staying the course can be challenging, but it’s preferable to waiting for a full-blown crisis to trigger a move. When your parent gets upset, hear them out, even if they’re pushing your buttons. Allow them to express their frustration. Don’t try to convince them how much better things will be in a retirement home. 

Listen and empathize. Tell them you can see why they’re so upset. You’d be upset too if you were in their shoes. Reassure them they don’t have to like it, ever. The end. No arguing.

Preparing for moving day

Here’s a list of suggestions about how to get ready for moving day. Recognize that everyone’s different. Pick the suggestions you think will work best for your parent.

  • Handle packing yourself. If their dementia makes it difficult for them to decide what to bring and what to leave behind, pack-objects you know are important to them or observe what things around their home they use and enjoy on a regular basis.

  • Get planning help. A senior living advisor or manager from the retirement community can help you plan the transition and offer you and your parent emotional support throughout the process.

  • Schedule time off. Book time off work. Try to save a few vacation days in case the move comes up suddenly. Pre-arrange for a family member or friend to be available on standby to lend a hand or provide child care, as necessary.

  • Arrange visits before moving day. If possible, arrange short respite stays for your parent at the retirement home ahead of the move. Dropping in for a meal or a day program is another way to give them a feel for the place. If they don’t remember these visits, it will help staff begin to get to know them in advance.  

  • Share their story. Let staff at the retirement home know about your parent’s hobbies, likes and dislikes, passions and pastimes. This will help staff to engage with your parent in a meaningful way, create an environment in which they’ll thrive, and match them with residents who have similar interests. 

Getting through moving day

  • Choose a good moving time. If your parent typically does better in the morning rather than late afternoon, schedule the move for a morning. Keep in mind that early morning can be busy times at retirement homes, so you might want to get a slot later in the morning.

  • Use compassionate deception. If your parent is resisting the move, consider telling them the move is temporary – say, for a week. Then keep telling them the stay’s been extended for another week. This will give them a chance to get used to their new home. If their memory is poor, they may forget the stay was supposedly temporary.

  • Don’t announce the move too soon. If you think your parent will get over-anxious in anticipation of the move, wait until close to the move date to inform them – or hold off until the actual day of the move if that’s practical. It may avoid extreme negative feelings and behaviours if that’s something they’re prone to.

Settling in after the move

  • Decide how soon to visit for the first time. Some experts suggest that you shouldn’t visit at all the first week to give your parent a chance to adjust without you. Others say that regular visits from family can help with the transition as long as they’re not too frequent. Finding the “sweet spot” can be a challenge. Staff at the retirement home may have thoughts on this. Be sure to check with them.

  • Use comfort food. Arrange for favourite and familiar foods for your parent’s first few meals in their new home. You’ll need to talk to the chef and kitchen staff to find out whether they can accommodate your request.

  • Use music. Music can have a remarkably positive effect on people with dementia. Load up playlists of your parent’s favourite songs so that they can listen to them as they settle in.

  • Be prepared for bad days and setbacks. If your parent complains about the retirement home, try not to take their criticism personally. It can be especially difficult if they keep asking to go home. Recognize that this will pass.

It gets easier

Eventually, your parent will adjust to their new surroundings. They may even come to love it there. After all, it may be a lot more interesting and engaging than where they were before, given the attention they get from staff, the chance to get to know other residents, and the daily slate of activities.

Remember that by moving your parent to memory care, you’re helping to give them the care and lifestyle they deserve.

Looking for retirement communities in the Ottawa area that offer memory care? We can help save you hours upon hours researching your options. We can also help you navigate the tricky emotional waters of making decisions for a parent with dementia. Give us a call or drop us a line.

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