Most seniors want to age in place within the comfort of their home. This might be an ideal situation for many seniors but for someone with dementia, the home may become an unsafe place. Wandering away from home alone, falling, starting a fire, or simply overlooking their basic hygiene can become topics of concern for many families. Often, a son, daughter, or spouse sees that their loved one needs to transition to a residential memory care community, but their loved one is not ready.
Families often struggle with conflicting feelings. They want to respect their loved one's wishes yet do not want their loved one to be at risk. In this uncomfortable situation, it can be difficult to know which choice is right. Most often, families want to wait until their loved one says they’re ready even though they already know the time has come. Families want their loved one to say, "yes, I want to move to a memory care community," but that almost never happens. This is why people with dementia so often stay home longer than is anticipated or advisable, potentially resulting in life-threatening events.
In my experience, there are always ways to help families make this transition; however, it does take a village. For someone with dementia, the word “home” becomes a feeling: the place where they feel safest and most at ease. If the situation is navigated adeptly, we can create that same feeling of safety and comfort within a residential care community, thereby helping someone who is living with dementia to successfully transition to a new home and a more supported way of life. Rest assured that new residents often refer to their memory care communities as "home" after only a short period of time.
- Have a plan: Work with the community care team to create a transition plan, which may entail holding a few brainstorming sessions together prior to move-in day. This will help you get ready and put the details of your plan into place.
- Include your loved one in the decision (if appropriate): Avoid telling your loved one that they must move. Instead, invite them to explore different options with you. This strategy is appropriate in some cases but not others. Know what they can handle and work with the care team.
- Introduce your loved one to the community (if appropriate): Try bringing your loved one to the community for a few visits before move-in day. Research shows that if someone has visited the community beforehand, they may transition more successfully to living there. Consider having lunch together at the community. It might even be a good idea to take part in a community event or activity to create some social ties before moving in.
- Create a positive story about the community: Many people view dementia care a clinical/medical setting; however, assisted living now offers several features that may resemble home such as a living room, kitchen, and more. Instead of framing these things around their need for help, focus on the positives, like the beautiful décor and calm atmosphere. If appropriate, you can even consider telling your loved one a fictional story, like you need to do some work on the house for a few days and need them to stay at the community as a getaway. You could even say it is a hotel. There are many ways to use a happy narrative to reframe the situation into something positive and unintimidating. Work on your story with the community care team. Take their advice.
- Rely on the research: It takes a person with dementia about 35 days to acclimate to a new environment, so expect that there might be a few hiccups during the transition process. Though most families do not like to hear this, a visit from a family member is often a trigger for regressive behavior. When someone with dementia sees or hears their loved one, they are reminded of home, which may trigger emotions. It is not uncommon for your loved one say things like, “why are you locking me up?” or, “why are you trying to get rid of me?” This can be heartbreaking to hear, but trust that in most cases, the person is fine. Remember that their safety and security is your primary concern and difficult emotions will subside in time. Work with your care team on communication tactics that are healthy and helpful for you and your loved one. Based on the CERTUS Institute Glenbrook Study, people with dementia, when placed in a social setting, often show cognitive improvement within their first three months. Within the first six months, they have often formed new friendships and express finding more meaning and purpose in their lives.
- The psychology of words: Some words, such as Alzheimer's disease, dementia, senior living, or memory care may be emotional triggers for your loved one. Keep in mind that they may still be struggling to process their diagnosis and may feel anger, sadness, or even denial. Use positive phrases such as wellness center, active community, or community center to ease into any visits or discussions.
- Lastly, remember that every person is unique: A strategy that works for one family might not work for another. Do your best to guide your loved one through this transition in a way that will reassure them most. There will be many details to consider; however, if you delay your decision while waiting for them to say, "yes, I want to move to a memory care community," you will likely be waiting for a very long time. Allow yourself to be a family member again rather than a caregiver. Lean on friends, family, and the community care team for support.
For more tips on how to celebrate with a loved one who is living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, or for further information about our unique Memory Care Communities please contact CERTUS Premier Memory Care Living at marketing@CERTUSseniorliving.com or by calling (407) 757-7597.