- If your loved one has limited short-term memory, it may be helpful to reassure them that staying in this new place is “temporary”, i.e., “just for the summer”, “just for a few months”. Telling them, “The doctor wants you to stay for a little while” may work if the person has a very good relationship with their doctor, and if they tend to place their doctor on a pedestal. “Stay for supper. You have a reservation, and the meal’s already paid for” might also be an effective approach.
- Introduce your loved one to other residents and staff as though these people are already your friends.
- Avoid explanations like “You’re here so they can take care of you.” A person with dementia may not think that he or she is sick. Likewise, “This is your home now!” is probably the least comforting thing you can say to a person who feels out of place. Instead of trying to argue with the person, focus on empathizing with their feelings, then distracting them. “I know it’s strange to be in a new place. Hey, I hear they have a lovely patio – let’s find it!” Or, “Of course you don’t like it yet. You only just got here. See how you feel in a few days! ”
- “I’ll help you get used to it” might be reassuring to your loved one, especially if you actually follow up on that. Attend activities with your loved one, eat a meal with them and make conversation with their new “friends”.
- Decorate your loved one’s room with items that define who this person is. You want staff to be able to know something about them the minute they walk in the room. An example might be a person whose hobby was making quilts. You could put a beautiful quilt on the bed or on the wall, and bring her sewing box with fabric pieces, yarn, thread (no pins) patterns, measuring tape, etc.)
- Create familiarity in your loved one’s room by bringing their favorite chair or other significant familiar possessions. Avoid photos from their recent past, (unless the photos are of grandchildren). Pictures of their mom and dad, or of you when you were a child, will be more relatable. You could even write the names of the people under each photo to give staff members a good starting point for making conversation.
- Hang items on the wall at 5’ or below, wherever your loved one’s line of vision is. They need to be able to see and touch their belongings.
- If allowable, distinguish the door to their room or apartment with their name or signature, hung about 4 feet up.
- If allowable, hang an 8 x 10 photo of when your loved one was much younger to the side of the door or place it in a Memory Box Cabinet. This is a wonderful tool to help people with dementia identify where they live. Many persons with dementia think of themselves as much younger than they actually are. Staff members will also benefit from seeing this photo, it reinforces that your loved one is a complete person who has lived a long and full life.
- Lastly, a tip for your benefit: Please do not bring in items of great value that you would regret losing. Wedding rings often fall off fingers and get lost. Some residents with dementia are fond of giving things away. My own mother threw most of her valuable jewelry in the trash at one point. Some families replace a wedding ring with a similar piece of costume jewelry in order to avoid losing that heirloom. Others simply promise their loved ones that they will keep it safe for them.
When persons with dementia move into a memory care community, it can take from several weeks up to three months or more for the person to adjust and feel comfortable with the new environment and routine. From my personal experience working with memory care residents at one assisted living for over a decade, I would say the average amount of time before the person settled in was no longer than a month. Your loved one may be angry for a while, and may seem more confused than before. This is a perfectly normal phase. Rest assured, things will improve in time. Here are ten tips to help ease the transition:
Marysue Moses Ebenezer’s Dementia Care Program Coordinator oversees a unique person-centered dementia care program that ensures Ebenezer residents who are living with dementia receive exceptional, compassionate care based on current best practices.