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Moving An Elderly Parent With Dementia Out Of Their Home

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Dementia patients have trouble with change, so it can be very upsetting when a big transition happens in their lives – such as moving to a new residence. Whether you’re moving to a new house with your senior or sending them to a nursing home or assisted living, how do you make the move a smooth process?

Here are some tips for moving someone with dementia:

  • Have a plan, but be flexible
  • Try to stick to the routine as much as you can on moving day
  • Introduce familiar things, such as a favorite song or blanket
  • If you can, move the senior’s stuff without them there
  • If you must leave, try not to make a big deal of it

We have plenty more useful information about moving a person with dementia. In this article, we’ll discuss whether moving can worsen dementia and when the best time for the move is.

How Does Change Affect Dementia Patients?

An older adult with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease has a lot to cope with. The person is undergoing complex changes in their brain.

In the early stages of dementia, they have some degree of memory loss, so it is important to have familiar items, such as a favorite chair, around them. Doing so helps to keep the person oriented to their surroundings.

As the disease progresses, they may experience hallucinations or delusions and eventually may not recognize a once familiar face.

They may not recognize their physical surroundings, either, which would be confusing and scary for anyone. Moving from a familiar environment to a completely new home in a new community they don’t recognize can be completely disconcerting for them.

When family members decide that it is time for their loved one to move into long-term care in memory care communities, there are steps you can take to make it easier for the person to make a successful move.

How Does Moving Affect A Dementia Patient?

Since the day your senior parent or loved one was diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, I’m sure you’ve done all you can to accommodate them.

Perhaps, rather than move them out of their own house, you moved in with them to provide them care. You might have even hired home care help for them.

Now, whether due to financial strain or realizing that they have reached the stage where you can no longer meet their care needs, you cannot continue the living arrangement as it is currently.

They must transition to a memory care facility, but you may be worried that moving your senior parent or loved one anywhere could worsen their dementia.

Unfortunately, that very well could happen.

People with dementia already experience confusion when around people and in places they’re familiar and comfortable with. By moving them, you’re putting the person into an unfamiliar environment.

This can lead to transfer trauma, which is the stress that a dementia patient can feel when they move into a new memory or assisted living facility. Depending on the senior, this stress can bring on a decline in their health.

And if pets are involved, that could worsen the situation as well. If you have to move your senior loved one away from their pet, consider therapeutic dolls (pets) to help replace them.

That said, family caregivers should not feel obligated to keep their senior parent or loved one in the same place forever.

If it’s a situation where the senior is in danger due to being unable to care for themselves or needs better care or around-the-clock supervision that you cannot provide, you should strongly consider a move.

If your loved one with dementia wanders, check into the Safe Return program.

You might feel stuck between a rock and a hard place right now, but a senior with dementia who’s living in poor conditions can also experience a decline, so it can happen either way.

If their dementia must worsen, wouldn’t you at least rather they be in a safer, more secure environment than where they are now? 

The best approach is to prioritize your parent’s safety. More than likely, that means they will have to move. 

How Do You Move A Patient With Dementia?

If you have decided that you have to move your loved one with dementia into residential care, careful planning will help ensure a smooth transition. 

Have A Plan, But Be Flexible

You wouldn’t move to a new house without a plan and that should be true of moving a dementia patient, as well. However, you have to add a huge degree of flexibility to your plans, as they can and will go awry.

For instance, if you wanted to get your senior’s things moved out in an afternoon, it’s not a bad idea to give yourself an extra afternoon (or two), as the progress can get snagged if your senior gets upset or refuses to leave. 

Go ahead and rent the moving truck for an extra couple of days. Maybe you don’t need it, but you more than likely will. Having it handy will reduce your stress, which may in turn keep your senior parent or loved one calmer. 

Try To Stick To The Routine As Much As You Can On The Day Of The Move

Your senior with dementia likely has a routine they follow from day to day. On moving day, try to keep to that routine as you normally would. 

Yes, your parent could notice that their home has barely any items left and that the walls are bordered with boxes. They’ll probably see the hulking moving truck parked on the curb or in the driveway as well. 

They might ask questions, or they might not; it depends on how cognizant their dementia has left them. Be willing to answer their questions and be honest.

Above all, adult children should not spring a move on their loved one at the last minute, as that can lead to an angry outburst and a big fight. 

Introduce Familiar Things, Such As A Favorite Song Or Blanket

Dementia can thrust older people into the throes of confusion. Moving to a new space – as we’ve established – certainly does not help. Once your loved one leaves their home and their way of life as they know it, they could begin getting upset.

Try to keep familiar elements out and visible throughout the moving process so the transition might be more seamless. For example, on the drive over to the senior’s new place, you might play their favorite music. 

You could have a TV set up in their new room that’s playing a classic movie they love. Perhaps you use an air freshener in the car that smells like a scent that’s meaningful to them.

You can even give them a comfortable, familiar item like a scarf, a blanket or a plushie, or maybe a photo album they can look through.

These small steps can make a big difference in helping your senior get to their new living quarters with fewer interruptions. 

If You Can, Move Your Senior’s Stuff Without Them

Keep in mind, some seniors with dementia are going to try to stop you at every turn. They might not understand why you’re packing up their things. If you tell them, they could forget again an hour later, which means rehashing the same conversation several times.

That gets exhausting, and it’s okay to admit it’s exhausting. Moving is stressful enough on its own, and the difficulty of dealing with a dementia patient on top of it can be overwhelming for anyone. 

Even though you love your senior parent very much, it may be easier if they’re not around when you move their possessions. You might arrange for your loved one to visit with another family member or a trusted friend for a couple of hours. This will keep them busy and distracted while you get their stuff situated elsewhere.

That being said, we want to stress again that you should not spring a move on a senior with dementia. Ideally, they should have expressed their wishes for where they wanted to live when their dementia was first diagnosed, but that’s not always possible. 

Even if you choose their new living arrangement, be that a nursing home or assisted living, your senior still needs to be in the know. Surprising them with the news is going to end very poorly. 

Read our article on how to calm someone with dementia.

When You Leave, Try Not To Make A Big Deal Out Of It

You got your senior parent or loved one all settled in and now it’s time for you to go home. You’re going to feel a myriad of emotions bubble up inside of you, such as guilt, sadness, and maybe a smidge of fear.

These are all perfectly natural things to feel when leaving a parent in the care of others for possibly the first time. That said, if you do a long, drawn-out goodbye, you’re just hurting yourself more.

If you can, you might have a friend or even the nursing home staff distract your senior by engaging them in conversation at the end of that first day. Then you can slip out unnoticed.

This might seem cruel, but the last thing you want is to be crying and emotional. Your senior might not even remember that you were there after a few hours, so your goodbye would be for naught. Plus, you getting upset can make your senior upset, as well. 

When Is The Best Time To Move Someone With Dementia?

If possible, you’d like to schedule the move at the best time of day for your senior. When is that?

First, it is best if your parent’s dementia and behavioral symptoms are relatively stable at the time of the move. Also, outside of their dementia, they should be in good health. 

However, a lot of people only begin thinking about getting their senior around-the-clock care after the person hurts themselves or has an incident. 

If that’s the situation you’re in, as well, then you should choose a time of day for the move when your senior is of a clearer mind. Maybe they’re better in the early mornings and then get progressively worse during the day, or perhaps it’s vice-versa. 

By selecting the times when your senior is in a better frame of mind, they might find it easier to understand what’s happening, which can help you reduce moving day hurdles. 

How Long Does It Take A Dementia Patient To Adjust To A Nursing Home?

Once you move a senior with dementia to a dementia care community, how long should it take for your senior to adjust to their new facility?

Expect an adjustment period of at least 30 days, but there’s no one right answer. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, upwards of 40 percent of seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s may be depressed. Their depression can worsen when in a new environment.

Thus, adjusting can happen in fits and spurts. One day, you might visit your senior parent or loved one and they seem to be doing quite well. The next time you come, they’re very sad or lethargic.

This may continue for a couple of weeks, although new residents usually adjust as they form new relationships and make new friends.

Fortunately, you don’t have to sit idly by while your senior gets used to their new surroundings. You can and should set up their new apartment or living arrangement as close as possible to the one back in their own home. Bring in familiar things such as photos and décor to help decrease transfer trauma.

Conclusion

Choosing to move someone with dementia can be one of the hardest decisions you have to make pertaining to their care.

Although a move can worsen a dementia patient’s symptoms, you must weigh the pros and cons carefully. If their current environment is not good for their health or well being, then moving them is a good idea.

We hope the information in this guide helps you with this difficult situation. 

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