The process of moving a parent to memory care is often full of unknowns but placing a loved one a memory care community doesn’t have to be filled with frustration.

Key steps to take before moving a parent to memory care

Several important parts of moving a parent to memory care happen ahead of moving day. In advance, caregivers can focus on managing emotions, maintaining effective communication, and finding small ways to make new surroundings feel like home.

  • Stick to a simple family script

Before the memory care move comes the memory care conversation. Likely, you’ll need to frequently remind your parent that they’re moving. Because moving to memory care often involves the whole family, many different voices and opinions may chime in, which can overwhelm seniors with dementia. To curb disorientation and reassure your loved one, establish a script or a straightforward, comforting response that each family member can return to again and again. Be concise and make sure everyone in the family is using the same verbiage. Keep the message simple. You can tell your aging relative “You’re going to your new home,” or “This is a place where you’ll be safe.”

  • Pack for your family member

Moving can be an emotionally turbulent experience for anyone, but it can be especially overwhelming for a loved one with dementia. The process of taking down pictures and boxing up beloved items only adds to stress and disorientation. To minimize panic and outbursts, try packing when your parent is asleep, at an appointment, or spending time with friends.

  • Personalize your parent’s living space

The memory care community you choose will become your family member’s new home. You should try to create a homey feeling from the start by incorporating a senior’s decorations and personal items into the space before the move if possible. That way when the resident walks into their apartment, they will see their belongings and hopefully have less anxiety. It’s also recommended that family members prioritize meaningful objects when considering what to bring to a memory care facility. Instead of moving all of your parent’s belongings at once, start with a few to encourage comfort rather than clutter. It also provides an opportunity for caregivers to engage in redirection and practice asking questions. By asking your parent if they want a certain pillow or picture, this tactic will allow mom or dad to make their voice heard and play an active role in their transition to memory care.

  • Tips for a smooth moving day for a parent with dementia

Just as family members should handle packing, they can shoulder key responsibilities on moving day to take the pressure off of their senior loved one. Moving day also marks a milestone a time when you can set up future success for your parent and connection for everyone involved.

  • Encourage your loved one to socialize and participate

While you’re unboxing final additions to your loved one’s memory care room, they can explore the community and begin to adjust to their new surroundings.

Aim to move during a memory care activity your loved one might enjoy, like an art class, singalong, or game of bingo. Experiencing the benefits of memory care right away can decrease moving day stress and give your family member an opportunity to meet friends and get a taste of their new daily routine.

  • Acknowledge your parent’s concerns and questions

On moving day, your parent may ask to come home, wonder why they have to be in memory care, or otherwise express distress. In these situations, lean on empathy. It’s not unusual for the person to want what they had before, whether it was working for them or not. Saying things like, “I hear you…I imagine this is really hard,” can be beneficial.

  • Ask how they’re feeling about their transition to memory care

Emotional situations also stand out as an active listening opportunity. During these moments, delve into your family member’s mindset to deepen your understanding and bond. In order to meet them where they are at, ask questions like, “Where is home?” They may describe it as the home they grew up in. When they’re upset and confused, ask questions about what they’re thinking and feeling. This approach to communication may help you know what to expect the next time your senior loved one is upset or disoriented, as well as provide insights into what’s causing these emotions.

  • Have important conversations with community staff

After moving a parent to memory care, the community’s staff will become an integral support system. On the day of the move, make a plan for continued communication and connection. Some suggested questions to ask the staff are:

“How will you help my parent transition?”

“What are my opportunities to see my loved one?”

“Do you have a process of sending updates?”

“Do you record and share activities that show my moved one is being engaged?”

Express your gratitude to community staff for helping care for your parent as they acclimate, and for keeping you in the loop.

After the move: continuing the transition to memory care

Even after you’ve moved your parent into memory care, there are steps you can take to help them thrive. Ease the transition for them and you by continuing to reach out and monitoring how they’re adapting to the community. Avoid potentially triggering moments during your visits and recognize that the transition may take time.

Stay connected in a way that’s healthy for you and your senior loved one

Communication and regular visits with your mom and dad show you’ll continue to support them and be present. However, communication can be challenging during the first weeks or months after the move. During visits and phone calls, your parent may ask to come home, become disoriented, or be hostile.

Reduce distress for seniors with dementia by following these tips when visiting their memory care community:

Visit at the right times. Whenever possible, opt for morning visits and avoid evenings. While those with dementia are generally more alert in the mornings, late afternoon can coincide with sundowner’s syndrome.

Participate in programming and meals with your senior loved one. Visiting during a game, activity, or lunchtime can distract from potentially fraught emotions. It also marks a clear end point for the visit making goodbyes easier.

Focus on the positive. It’s not just people with dementia who get frustrated. Caregivers can easily fall into negativity while navigating the challenges of supporting a loved one with cognitive decline.

Accept that the transition to memory care might take several weeks

Moving into a memory care facility marks a big change one that requires time and patience from everyone involved. Families should expect a window of four to six weeks for seniors to become fully acclimated. During this time, family members should validate their loved one’s feelings, rather than simply push past them.

Be open to reassessing needs, and embrace flexibility

There’s no exact formula for assuring a memory care facility is the right fit but instead multiple opportunities to evaluate and readjust. While adjustment challenges are normal, watch out for persisting red flags. If your parent has difficulty making friends or engaging in community activities, consider talking with staff to address concerns, and working together on a plan to overcome the problem. If your loved one continues to express distress and asks to come home after six weeks, this may signal they feel trapped and abandoned. With a little flexibility, families can explore shifts within the community or as a last resort, seek a new facility that may be a better match.

Moving a parent to memory care during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupts many routine elements of moving a parent to memory care. Instead of taking a firsthand role in the moving process, caregivers may have to leave the bulk of tasks to facility staff. New residents might also have to quarantine upon move-in, and visitors will face additional screening and safety protocols.

These circumstances make clear communication even more essential. When moving a parent to senior living during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should ask the following questions:

  • Is there a quarantine period for seniors moving into a memory care community? If so, how long are new residents expected to isolate?
  • What role can families play in the move while maintaining safety and following established protocols?
  • What activities and programming opportunities are in place for residents during the pandemic?
  • In the event of a confirmed COVID-19 case, how will communities keep residents safe and prevent a potential outbreak?
  • How does the community handle caregiver visits during COVID-19? Are visitors expected to quarantine ahead of time, take a test, wear a mask, or see their senior loved one in an outdoor setting?