“There’s no way he is going to go willingly,” a spouse on the other end of the line said softly.
Her husband’s Alzheimers had progressed to a point where she could no longer manage his care. She had already managed quite a lot in the four years since his diagnosis. A local daughter had helped.
I could readily see, from where I sat with her at their dining room table, that they had had a lovely life together, living and working abroad for many years while raising a large family. There was lots of evidence of a life well-lived.
“I feel guilty,” she said, then added, “but the other day, when I fell asleep, I woke up and couldn't find him. The front door was open.”
When I had stopped by the previous week for a short visit on her front porch, when she walked in not ten minutes later, she realized he had turned on the stove.
This is a heart-breaking moment and one that is becoming increasingly common. This family was fortunate that we had found an available room in a community with a reputation for compassionate care.
That doesn't make it easier. I have walked through the transition with many families before and someone recently emailed me to ask that I address this in a post because there is no map of six tidy steps on how to move your loved one from their old home into their new one. I will tell you some strategies that have helped.
- As far as telling your loved one ahead of time about the move, many choose not to—as it will undoubtedly agitate them. They very well might not have the wherewithal to process it and even try to run away or become physically resistant. Those who do choose to tell their loved one, they frame it as a temporary situation, such as, “Honey, I need to travel out to CA to help our daughter with the grandchildren and since I will not be home, I have found a place for you to stay while I am gone.”
- Before taking your spouse to the Memory Care Community, go to lovingly decorate the room with items from home that will be of comfort, whether that’s a blanket, family photos, a coo-coo clock, or a radio tuned to his favorite channel. Make sure he will have all the items he needs – like favorite pajamas, electric razor, a certain pillow—so he will not become distraught for lack of them.
- Make sure all his medications have been successfully transferred over to the appropriate Nurse Supervisor at the Memory Care Community before he arrives.
- Inform the Memory Community ahead of time about his preferences in terms of food, bedtime rituals, activities he likes and any other pertinent information.
- Ask the community what the best days are for a new admission. You want to make sure there will be sufficient staff on hand. Many communities don’t take admissions on the weekends.
- Ask another family member to accompany you when you do take him. You might decide to go to a favorite restaurant for lunch or a park or other destination that historically can put him in a good frame of mind beforehand.
- Work out a plan with the staff about who will be there to meet him. Some communities recommend the family member say goodbye at the door and two staff members then calmly take him in. This reduces the risk of a protracted and difficult separation in the hallway.
- Be strategic about your arrival time. Many Memory Care communities recommend arriving at lunch time when there is a lot of bustle and someone can take the new resident directly in to eat and meet others.
- Feel free to call the Memory Care staff later in the day to see how he has adjusted. Typically, the Nurse Manager will advise the family to stay away for a particular period of time (some say as long as a week or two) so that their loved one adjusts to the new routine and setting.
- Most importantly, go easy on yourself. Expect to second-guess the move. Remind yourself of all the reasons why. Seek support from close friends and family. Expect to grieve. Take care of yourself. If you are like many I have worked with, you’ll realize it has seemingly been years since you had the luxury of something as simple as sleeping through the night.