In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, it’s important to support your loved one’s sense of independence as much as possible. However, as the disease progresses, you may decide it’s safer to move them to a residential community or assisted living facility. Even when that decision is for the best, it can still be confusing and upsetting for your loved one — but there’s a lot you can do to ease the transition.
Talking with your loved one about the move, and helping them get to know the new place in advance, will help minimize anxiety and set positive expectations. By adding familiar personal touches to their living space when they move in, you can reduce confusion and provide a sense of continuity. Regular visits after the move, meanwhile, can reassure your loved one that you care for them as much as ever, and want to stay involved in their daily life.
Here are some helpful tips for preparing your loved one for the move, and making them comfortable in their new community, facility or home.
Talk to the person with Alzheimer’s about the upcoming move.
The best time to talk with your loved one about the move is after you’ve made the decision, but before moving day. People with Alzheimer’s can be easily distressed by changes in their schedule and environment — so even if the person in your care doesn’t remember this whole conversation, you can at least familiarize them with the idea, and give them some sense of what to expect at the new place.
It’ll help to present the move as an upgrade, and describe the community as somewhere you’d want to live — for example, “You’re going to be moving to a beautiful new home. You’ll have people to cook and do your laundry, a big garden and a private restaurant, and all kinds of games and social activities. I’m actually a little jealous.” Point out that the new place will be close by, so you’ll continue to visit your loved one on a regular basis.
As you describe the new place, your loved one may realize what kind of home you’re talking about — and they may become upset. If they ask direct questions, answer with as much honesty as they can handle. For example, if they ask why you’re moving them to a nursing home, you could explain, “It’s actually not a nursing home; it’s a residential community, which is very different. This is more like a condo complex, but with people on-site to help with chores and cooking.”
Be prepared for pushback. If your loved one is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, they may insist they’re still able to care for themself, and don’t want to leave their own home. When emotions run high, keep your tone of voice calm and respectful — but stick to your decision, and keep your responses consistent. If you don’t seem to be getting anywhere, try changing the subject or transitioning to a more enjoyable activity.
If possible, bring your loved one to visit the place they’ll be moving to.
A move to a new home can be a lot less scary when your loved one knows what to expect. They may have a negative mental image of a residential community — and a tour of the grounds can reassure them that it’s a comfortable, friendly place where they’ll have plenty of freedom. A visit before moving day can also help familiarize your loved one with the environment, and set their mind at ease about what to expect.
During the visit, draw your loved one’s attention to all the comforts and amenities they’ll enjoy as a resident. Point out how sunny and spacious the rooms are, how beautiful the garden is, and how wonderful it’ll be to have on-site staff to cook and clean every day. Join (or watch) a group activity, and talk about all the other fun games and events on the schedule. Give your loved one lots to look forward to over the coming months.
It’s also a good idea to meet with the care team, so your loved one can see they’ll be treated with dignity and respect. If the person in your care likes to socialize, you can encourage them to chat with some of the residents, too. They may even make a new friend or two — and those familiar faces will help the new place feel a lot more welcoming when they move in.
Add plenty of personal touches to minimize stress on moving day.
Moving day can be an especially anxious time for a person with Alzheimer’s — but you can set a happy tone by turning it into a celebration. Treat it as if you’re seeing them off for a vacation. Build positive anticipation by reminding them of all the fun activities they’ll experience, the interesting people they’ll meet, and the comfort and relaxation they’ll enjoy.
At the same time, continuity and consistency are important — so bring along some favorite decorations, lamps and pieces of furniture to help the new place feel more like home. Familiar blankets and pillows can make it much easier to fall asleep in a different bed. If possible, get your loved one involved in choosing what to bring along, by asking simple questions like, “Would you like to bring this figurine to put on the dresser?” However, if those decisions turn out to be stressful, follow your own instincts about what to bring and what to leave behind.
As your loved one settles in on moving day, use personal touches to create a reassuring atmosphere. Put on a playlist of favorite songs, or play a familiar movie on the room’s TV. It’s also important to talk with the staff about your loved one’s interests, preferences and daily rhythms. They’ll be eager to provide a smooth transition by keeping things as consistent as possible — and the more they know, the more effectively they can help.
While every person adjusts to a new living situation on their own timetable, some careful preparation, respectful communication, and familiar touches will go a long way toward supporting a smooth transition. Still, when you visit, be prepared for your loved one to say they “want to go home.” That’s usually a way of saying they’re uncomfortable — so ask what you can do to make their life here more enjoyable; and if possible, ask staff to make those changes. With time and patience, your loved one will realize this new place is actually pretty great, once they get used to it.