Transitioning into Memory Care

Remember when you moved into your first apartment? I remember being alternately excited and nervous.  My fear and anxiety were mostly that I had never lived on my own before. But I was young and had confidence in my ability to “figure things out” and had my family who could back me up if I needed it. 

Now take this same scenario but fast forward 40 or 50 years, and the excitement and anticipation that I once felt about moving has given way to an altogether different point of view. My previous desire to “go out and find myself and set the world on fire” has given way to the feeling that “my world is just fine” and “I am more than happy to stay put with what I know, my things and my memories.” The only problem is that It keeps getting harder to do just that.

As I make every effort to hang on to my life the way I know it, I also know that my confidence is a little shaky because I seem to forget things. My parents are long gone, but I do have adult children and nieces and nephews who can help me out – if they have the time. I don’t like to bother them. And I have a few medical conditions that I am having trouble staying on top of – I can never remember if I took my medication. But that is not too serious – Is it?

I know that I should probably move into a smaller place or get some help but all of my memories are here where I am living now. I really don’t want to move to a care home. I hope my memory doesn’t get worse. This fear of moving or relocating is real. It affects people of all ages but is especially difficult for seniors or folks suffering from the early stages of dementia. It is called Relocation Stress Syndrome.

Relocation Stress Syndrome

Tracy Greene Mintz, LCSW, a nationally recognized expert in relocation stress syndrome, characterizes the syndrome as a cluster of symptoms that can occur in anyone who moves from one environment to another, whether a child who has to change schools or an adult who transfers to a new job in a new city. Symptoms of Relocation Stress Syndrome can include irritability, anger, and anxiety, among others. Those most at risk for transfer trauma are individuals with Alzheimer’s/dementia who move from their home into a long term care community and for those who move within a community from one level of care to another. These folks often still feel capable of living at home and resist making change, as well as having difficulty adjusting to change. They frequently lack the insight to know that they are at risk and lack the objectivity to make decisions regarding their care or living situation.

Adding confusion to the decision-making process is that in the early stages of dementia and even after, persons with dementia retain strong long-term memory, but their limitations in short-term memory and new learning memory disrupt their ability to cope with change. If they’ve lived in their own home their entire lives, they feel secure and comfortable, and familiarity allows them to have some independence. A move erodes their comfort and confidence. The unknown and the unfamiliar may cause fear and anxiety that may remain until they are able to forge new relationships, get better acquainted with a different physical environment, and gradually adjust to change.

Tips for Successful Transitions

It is important to recognize that each person’s transition to a new living situation will be different, depending on the reasons for the move and how much the person moving is able to consent or help facilitate the move. But when a move is in the best interests of you or your loved one, these few tips will help make the transition easier.

  • Do your homework and make sure that the community that is chosen is the best possible one for your loved one. Make sure that you fully understand the policies and procedure for move in, visitation, meals, security and stimulating activities. Having a comfort level that you have made the right choice is important for everyone’s peace of mind.
  • Try to avoid telling your loved one that they need more help. Many people needing memory care h-ve no idea that they need memory care. To suggest that they do will enlist a combative response. Offer limited choices and avoid open-ended questions such as “Do you think that you are doing fine here at home?” Remember, the typical response will be “Of course!”.
  • Attempt to recreate familiar surroundings. Recreating the home environment helps to reduce confusion and agitation. Make sure that your care community knows all of your loved one’s likes and dislikes – what TV programs are part of their regular routine – favorite foods, clothing and the like. It has been observed that certain TV programs at certain times of day can help to “signal” mealtime which can prove a valuable aid to keeping up with nutrition. 
  • Include Things to Feel at Home. Also a home-like environment that incorporates many of your loved one’s personal items may help to minimize “wandering” in those with advanced dementia as folks like to stay with what is familiar and known.
  • Keep it Familiar One of the best tips we have gotten from people who help with senior moves is to take photographs of the cupboards in the kitchen and where things are, and do the same for the bathroom and bedroom. And to the extent possible, recreate the environments and placement of things like drinking glasses and silverware, towels and toothbrushes, and clothing in the same place in the new apartment that they were at home.  That will help the person accommodate to their new home with less stress about everything “Being in the wrong place.”
  • Work with your Counselors and Memory Care staff to help ease the Transition. It is important to remember that everyone is going through this transition together. Family members can offer invaluable insight into managing certain behaviors. And Caregivers will keep families abreast of any new developments. Taking a “team” approach to Memory Care is a welcome and standard approach in many communities. 

In the southern Bucks County area of Pennsylvania, Chandler Hall goes through an extensive process to discover each and every resident’s likes and dislikes as well as understand the whole person – their past selves as well as their current self. Discovering and maintaining connections is an important part of resident care. 

Those initial few weeks after move-in to Memory Care are difficult for everyone. That is why it is important to the Caregivers at Chandler Hall that families know that they are not alone. Each family is introduced to Maggie Sullivan’s dementia support group Silver Century Foundation, one of the preeminent voices on Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia of all kinds.

There is No Rule Book

The journey through Memory Care is a difficult one to plan. There is no real “normal”. We always like to think that our case will be the exception to the rule. And sometimes it is. But often the decisions that we make early on in the process are the ones that set the tone for a smooth transition or a more difficult one. Always remember that information is power.

Thinking about Memory Care?

If you are concerned about a loved one and whether Memory Care is an option to consider, we hope you’ll download our free guide, Navigating the Journey of Memory Care. It was designed by members of our community that have had to help find Memory Care for their loved ones, and wanted to make sure you have information to better understand the Journey ahead while making a good choice for what’s best for your family and loved one. Just click the button below to start your journey, with a helping hand from Chandler Hall.