When Emily Caldwell first mentioned Assisted Living to her mother, Bonnie Caldwell, Bonnie resisted the idea. Bonnie had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease nearly two years prior, but she continued to live in her own apartment and drive occasionally.
The turning point came soon after the initial conversation about Assisted Living, when seventy-year-old Bonnie made a left turn into her driveway—right into the path of a motorcycle.
“I told Mom I had to take her car keys away that very day,” says Emily. “And she said, ‘If I can’t drive, I might as well move to Assisted Living.’”
Talking about Assisted Living
Of course, the Caldwells are not the only family to journey down the heartbreaking road of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 42 percent of individuals living in residential care communities have Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, compared to about 50 percent of nursing home residents.
Like Bonnie, many seniors with dementia have reservations about leaving their homes and moving to a long-term care facility; however, family members can ease the transition with consistent encouragement and support.
“My sister and I told Mom it was kind of like dorm living again—space to herself, friends right outside her door, no cooking, a weekly visit from a housekeeper, and activities and entertainment on site,” says Emily, an Ohio State University media relations manager who has been blogging about her mom since 2009.
Fortunately, Bonnie made fast friends in the Assisted Living community, which gave Emily peace of mind. And when Bonnie had to move to an Alzheimer’s-specific memory care community two years later—with hardly any notice—she took it in stride.
“She became comfortable in the nursing home very quickly, taking naps on the couch in the lobby and engaging with other residents,” says Emily. “She was able to adapt quite well.”
Making the Decision
Even though many seniors with dementia benefit from living in a long-term care community, families often drag their feet before making the transition.
“I suspect many people wait longer than is ideal to make the move,” says Emily. But she believes long-term care communities benefit people with dementia.
“In my experience, people who moved into these settings often were able to relax, to stop trying so hard to fit in in a complicated world,” she says. “In facilities where people are similar to them, patients with Alzheimer’s get a sense they are part of a community.”
When it comes to coordinating the move itself, follow your loved one’s routine as much as possible. Plan the admission during his or her best time of day, and not during a meal or staff shift change. Anything you can do to simplify the physical transition of moving will go a long way toward easing the emotional transition.
To make your loved one feel at home on moving day and beyond, bring familiar items such as pictures, plants, blankets, and even furniture. Involve your loved one in the packing and moving process to help him or her take ownership of the decision.
Most importantly, stay positive about the change. Your loved one will rely on your supportive presence to help feel secure in the new environment.
Bonnie Caldwell passed away in October 2015, and Emily considers it an honor and privilege to have seen her mom through her final years, from Assisted Living to Skilled Nursing care.
“Moving a loved one to long-term care is not betrayal, but a loving act,” says Emily. “I had so many special moments with Mom, just holding her hand and taking a walk. She was childlike, and very sweet, and that’s how I remember her now.”
SHARE YOUR STORY: How did your family prepare your loved one with dementia for a move to Assisted Living?