Moving a loved one with dementia

Tips to help ease the transition to senior living for a parent with dementia or memory issues.

How can families manage the transition when a parent with dementia moves to senior living? Try these six tips from Amica's memory care expert.
Image for Conversations Article Moving a loved one with dementia
Image for Conversations Article Moving a loved one with dementia. Senior looking at photo album.
#1: Start the discussions early
Pay attention to your loved one’s response when you begin the moving process by floating the idea of selling the house and moving. “Almost everyone is going to say, “No way, I’m not leaving!” says Dr. Heather Palmer, National Director of Cognitive Well-Being at

#2: Respond consistently to fears
When you know your loved one’s pain points, respond with consistent messages that relieve or prevent stress. You and your family members might reassure your mom that the suite is big enough that she can bring all her favourite things, or that she can see the treasures at your house whenever she visits. And yes, Palmer says it’s fine to use white lies if telling the truth intensifies frustration..) It’s also helpful to share your parent’s fears with the residence. “If your mom keeps mentioning that she’s going to leave if she has to move, then the team will be better prepared to handle exit-seeking behaviour,” says Palmer.

#3: Visit in advance
If you know months ahead that your dad is moving to a residence, arrange to bring him over for lunch or to join the recreation or social programs. “It creates a sense of familiarity,” says Palmer. Then you can reference the visits as the date draws near. “You might say, ’We’re going to play cards at Amica. Last time we were there, you and Mr. Phillips talked about being school principals.’ You want him to feel this is a safe, fun, secure place, before he stays the night.” It’s also a chance to start building trust with team members: if a parent responds particularly well to a team member, arrangements might be possible to have that staff person on hand for move-in day.

#4: Get the suite ready first
Palmer recommends having the room set up before your parent moves in. “Organization is key,” says Palmer. “It can be disruptive to someone to see their stuff being carted in or to arrive in a room cluttered by boxes.” When you’re setting up the suite, try to keep things as consistent as possible. Before packing, open drawers, closets and medicine cabinets and take pictures so you know how your loved one likes things arranged, right down to the hanging and folding of the bathroom towels. Keep Dad’s bedside table on the left if that’s how it’s been for 50 years—even if it would look better on the right. “Go for familiarity over appearance,” Palmer says.
#5: Plan move-in day wisely
It’s in your best interest to consider the needs of your loved one and the residence when timing the move. “I encourage people to put a lot of thought into this,” says Palmer. Consider the time of day: when is Mom most happy and cooperative? Will the memory care coordinator (or another experienced team member) be available at that time to offer one-on-one support? What is happening in the residence that day? “If Mom loves music or animals, maybe she moves in an hour before a music program or pet therapy so she can be included in something that brings her joy,” Palmer says. Create a sense of comfort: take her out for lunch that day if that’s something she’d enjoy. If you agree with the community that 2 p.m. is ideal, then be sure to arrive then to ensure Mom gets the support she needs.
#6: Agree on the move-in day messaging
Some families tell Mom or Dad that Amica is their new home. Others use white lies to reduce anxiety. If you’re unsure about what to say, speak to your memory care coordinator who can work with you and your family to figure out a consistent message that will help ease the transition for your loved one. For example, one new resident had been very active at golf clubs and traveling, so the family said her husband had arranged for her to try out a suite at a new club to see if she liked it—and she did!

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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