Moving a parent to memory care for dementia gives them access to round-the-clock specialized care, social activities, support services and more. These are all good things that improve their quality of life, but the transition to memory care can be difficult for some people. This adjustment can take days, weeks or even months, depending on the individual and the progression of the disease.
During the period of adjusting to a memory care unit, some residents experience relocation stress syndrome, also known as transfer trauma. It’s a formal diagnosis for a person’s physical and/or psychological reactions to a changed environment.
Some characteristics of relocation stress syndrome include:
- Disturbed sleep
- Change in eating habits
- Stomach problems
- Expressing concern
How to Move a Parent with Dementia
So how can you help your parent when it’s time to transition to memory care?
- Involve them in the decision to move as much as they are able to participate.
- Let them ask questions, and answer them honestly.
- Make sure staff members understand what your parent is typically like. Some people may show obvious signs of relocation stress, but others will manifest in more subtle ways. The more staff knows about your parent, the more likely they are to recognize and address transition issues.
- If possible, make several visits before moving day. Having them see the community and even participate in some activities can help them feel more comfortable being there.
- Try to schedule the move for your loved one’s best time of day.
- On moving day, try to follow their routine as much as possible so they’ll have some consistency.
- Set up their new residence with a few familiar and meaningful items. This could include photos, artwork, furniture, books or decor.
- After they move in, visit them frequently for short intervals. A familiar face can make it easier to adjust to this big change.
How to Help if They Want to Go Home
It’s not uncommon for new memory care residents to talk about “going home.” What can you do if your dad or mom is not settling into their new memory care home and wants to leave?
- Don’t insist they are already home. “Home” may or may not be the physical place they just left behind. It could be a place they lived a long time ago, or memories of a time or place they felt happier. Acknowledge the feelings and encourage them to talk about what it was about “home” that made them feel good. It could provide clues about what they need to feel better now.
- Reassure them they’re safe and cared for. Being in a strange place can make anyone feel insecure. Let them know they’re safe and loved with words and, if appropriate, physical touch such as hand-holding or a gentle hug.
- Listen and validate. You can’t talk them out of how they feel. Listen and let them know it’s OK to feel what they feel.
- Encourage them to participate in activities. Memory care programming is designed to help residents socialize, stay active and keep mentally stimulated. Offer to participate in some activities with them – it’s a good way to spend quality time together and help them become more integrated into the community.