Determining the appropriate time to move your loved one into a memory care community is a difficult decision. “You know it’s coming, but you don’t let yourself go there and you keep denying it,” says Garry, whose wife Marcia now lives at Villa at Terracina, a memory care community in Naples, Florida. “I couldn’t do it physically or mentally anymore, so I had to make the hardest decision of my life.” But once you decide that is best for the entire family, there are a number of proven ways to make the transition as smooth and easy as possible.
“Her quality of life is better than it was living with me,” Garry admits as he discusses Marcia’s transition. “She is around countless people and having interactions on a continual basis.”
Share a Snapshot of Their Life
One of the keys to a successful transition to a memory care community is providing the staff with the tools they need to get to know your loved one. “Bring in photo albums and things that are meaningful for them,” says Tina, Regional Director of Life Enrichment for The Goodman Group. “It gives us talking points to spark conversation and can calm them down.”
Share information on their schedules, their preferences, and the things they like and don’t like. “What do they eat? What are things that scare them? Do they stay up late? Do they do arts and crafts,” asks Tina. “All of these things help create a really nice snapshot for us of how they live their life. They do remember a lot from the past, so if we can relate to that as much as possible, it helps.”
Personalize Their Apartment
Often times, memory care communities provide unfurnished rooms. Think of the space as a blank canvas and make it into something special for your loved one. “Bring in items that are familiar, don’t go out and buy new stuff,” recommends Marthe, Executive Director at Villa at Terracina. “Bring in the blanket that they have always had on their bed or something significant that they remember from way back when. It makes it feel like home.”
Avoid Being Emotional
Transitioning your loved one to a memory care community can be very emotional time. You may have spent years of your life supporting and caring for each other. When moving your loved one, it is extremely important that you not show your sadness or cry. “When a spouse begins to cry, it can ruin it for the resident,” says Marthe. “I know it is hard to do, but you have to put on a facade. You want them to be cheerful.”
“I tried to explain to her what was going on and I doubt she understood what I was saying,” says Garry speaking of the day he transitioned his wife Marcia into Villa at Terracina. “But the fact that there were people around her, she sensed the level of comfort and she wasn’t upset. I fell apart, though, when I got to my car.”
Have a Caregiver or Friend Help Them Move
We recommend having a caregiver or family friend move the resident into the community. It can often be difficult for a spouse or family to avoid showing emotions, and it is definitely hard to leave. They will be comfortable being with someone they are familiar with, but are not as attached to them as they are to a spouse, making the separation easier.
Never Say Goodbye
“Never say goodbye. When you say goodbye to them, they may think it is forever,” says Marthe. “Excuse yourself for a moment saying that you are going to make a call or check on medications and then quietly leave.” You want to avoid having your loved one feel like you are abandoning them. Plan your initial drop off and visits around meals or activities so you can revert their attention away from your absence.
Call as Much as You Want, But Avoid Visiting Initially
While this very much depends on the individual resident and how attached they are to their spouse or loved ones, it is best to avoid visiting the first week or two to allow them to get used to their new home.“It really takes up to three months to get completely acclimated, because we have to build trust,” says Marthe. “If the family comes to visit every day, they never get used to being here and are just continually asking where their family is.”
It will be difficult for you to be away, try visiting your family or participating in activities you enjoy to distract yourself. Call the community to check in as much as you like, but know that it is in the best interest of your loved one to give them time to adjust.
“Not having her with me and not being able to take care of her, I was on the verge of going back and taking her home,” says Joe, the husband of another Villa at Terracina resident. “I made plans to go back to New York the next day to visit my children and grandchildren. And in the long run, that was the best decision.”