Moving a loved one with dementia is one part of the process when you decide your mom or dad would be safer in a senior living residence offering memory care. Settling is the next challenge as everyone gets accustomed to the new arrangements. That’s why families and residents are both supported at Amica, where we have in-house experts offering reassurance, insight and advice on how to make life easier on everyone, including people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Heather Palmer, Amica‘s National Director of Cognitive Well-Being, offers these family-centred tips on how to ease the transition to memory care.
#1 Expect Resistance - And Turnarounds
In the early days, adult children of residents with memory loss may receive emotional phone calls from their loved ones. “Your mom might call crying, she might be angry, she might even accuse you of not loving her — all of these reactions are perfectly normal,” says Heather, who recalled a family support session at one Amica residence where a dozen relatives of memory care residents at different stages of the transition process shared their experiences. “One daughter told us it was breaking her heart to get these calls from her mom,” says Heather. “She felt worried, she felt guilty, she was questioning her decision.” When she heard from others at the residence who had all gone through similar experiences with their loved ones, she felt validated. She was also reassured: one family shared that their father with dementia had been anxious a month earlier, but soon began to call Amica home. “I’d say every resident who has a difficult time initially turns around over time and starts to feel comfortable,” says Heather.
#2 Give it Time
Heather says it’s variable, but someone with dementia may take anywhere from two to six weeks to feel comfortable after transitioning to their new environment. In the meantime, people with dementia may try exit-seeking, such as attempting to pack their bags and leave, honestly believing they are needed at home or at work. While our team members will gently and safely redirect the resident (and discreetly unpack the bags), Palmer suggests families remove suitcases from their loved one’s suite. Without the prompts or the ability to easily pack, the temptation to leave usually subsides.
#3 Consider Limiting Your Visits at First
You might think that visiting often will help your parent settle in, but the opposite is often true. When visitors leave, residents with cognitive challenges such as dementia often become anxious and agitated because they don’t know how to process their sadness and confusion around your absence. “Our goal is to alleviate your mom’s negative feelings even if it means telling little white lies, such as ‘Joe was just here’ or ‘Joe has just gone out to do a few errands,’” explains Heather. “Comforting her with the lie is actually healthier for her, both immediately and in the long run.” You can read more about why honesty isn’t always the best policy for helping people with memory loss in this blog on how Amica staff help families learn to reassure and redirect their loved ones.
#4 Allow Team Members to Care for Your Loved One
Research tells us that building relationships is one of the keys to happy, healthy living. The sooner residents can bond with their caregivers — to trust that the team members are there to support the resident with daily needs, and with nurturing that resident’s sense of well-being and purpose — the sooner the resident will feel safe, cared for and loved.
#5 Get Support From the Team
Amica staff are not only highly trained in best practices for helping people with memory loss, they’re also great at helping families. The support team at your residence can offer advice on how to handle visits and any other issues that arise as your loved one is getting settled. “Our family-centred approach involves education for the family and constant communication because supporting families ultimately helps us support the quality of life of our residents,” says Palmer.
Dr. Heather Palmer is a cognitive aging and dementia specialist with more than 30 years of clinical and scientific experience. She focuses on helping individuals improve the way they think, feel and function. As Amica’s National Director of Cognitive Well-Being, she develops cognitive well-being programs for Amica with a heightened focus on memory care and assisted living.
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