Updated 9/16/17

Insider Tips from A Former Memory Care Director

As a former memory care director (and a family member who’s had multiple experiences with memory care placement), I know plenty of insider info on what to expect when you’re moving your parent into memory care. And I thought you might like to know it, too.

If you’re like most people, some of these things are going to surprise you. And, you’ll see some things that hadn’t even occurred to you. The point isn’t to overwhelm, but rather to prepare you.

I previously shared How To Know When It’s Time For Memory Care. This time, I discuss what happens when you’ve made the decision to do it.  

What To Expect

The scariest part of anything is when you have no idea what to expect, right?

Because we know that energy is contagious, and that people living with dementia are especially skilled at picking up on emotions, one of the most important pieces of moving your parent into memory care is for you to know what to expect.

Not only does knowing what’s coming down the pike help you set realistic expectations, it also helps you manage your own anxiety level (and keep from unintentionally passing it on to your parent).

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at what you’re likely to experience when you’re moving your parent into memory care.


What To Expect: Emotionally

This is the part that tends to shock the heck out of people: chances are, you’re going to get knocked flat on your behind when you’re moving your parent into memory care. Here’s why.

A tsunami of emotion

Moving your parent into memory care is one of the most difficult things you’ll do during the entire disease process. Most people approach the move as a task that needs completion (yes, it is that), but are unaware of (or try to suppress) the tsunami of emotion that comes with it.

Remember, feelings just are. There’s no right or wrong here. The more you try to bury your feelings, the bigger the tsunami threatening to overwhelm you.

Your childhood “stuff”

This is going to bubble up to the surface, whether you’ve dealt with it or not.

If you’ve already addressed it, you’ve got a leg up. If you haven’t, here’s another opportunity presenting itself. Either way, know this is totally normal. You’re moving your parent into memory care; this is A Big Deal!

Ask yourself, “What’s the kindest, most loving thing I can do for myself in this moment?” Then do it!


What To Expect: Inside The Memory Care Community

As I started writing this list, I realized I could do an entire blog post on this one piece alone. Instead, I’ll just touch on a few points. 

The closets are unbelievably small!

Pack accordingly. Ask the memory care director if she has a “recommended items” list for guidance. If not, think it through: does your mom need her winter clothes for a summer move-in? 8 church outfits? 

Another thing to think about is underwear. If your parent is routinely using disposable undergarments, you can go ahead and toss the washable undies.

You’ll hate the laundry system.

Either make the decision to take it home to do it yourself, or understand that clothes are not going to get ironed, delicates aren’t going to be hand washed, and this is no place for “dry clean only.”

On top of that, if the community will be doing the laundry, every last washable item must be labeled in Sharpie with your parent’s name (never a room number). Yes, that includes sheets and towels. And, no, they don’t sort by colors, whites, etc.

Most–but definitely not all!–memory care communities wash each person’s clothing separately. Check out the details and decide what you can live with before committing to how you want to handle this.

Another surprise for many families: you need to bring your own hamper, too.

Unauthorized shopping is incredibly popular.

Unauthorized shopping is another way to say that when you have a group of cognitively impaired people in close proximity to one another, the lines get blurred about who owns what.

As you know by now, reason and logic don’t work, and neither does arguing. So “confronting” someone about the rightful owner of an ugly Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt isn’t going to help anything.

The staff will sort it all out at the end of the day, but do everyone a favor (most especially yourself) and don’t even think about moving your parent into memory care with priceless heirlooms in tow.

Unauthorized shopping is as popular a pastime in memory care as keggers are in fraternity houses.

We call it ‘waiting to be found.’

You call it ‘lost.’ However you want to say it, it’s the flipside of unauthorized shopping.

We know whatever it is will eventually show up–but that could mean 100 years from now when the building is demolished and all the treasures dropped down vents and into plumbing are finally revealed.

Or it could mean when someone else’s family is collecting belongings after their loved one has passed and find unfamiliar objects well-hidden in drawers. (I don’t think I’ve ever packed up belongings without finding at least one item that belonged to someone else.)

Again, do everyone a favor (most especially yourself) and don’t even think about moving your parent into memory care with a priceless heirloom.


Moving Your Parent Into Memory Care

Again, this is one of the toughest things you’ll do during the entire disease process. (I know, I know, it all feels tough in one way or another!)

It’s really important you keep a couple of things in mind as the foundation to everything else you do related to moving your parent into memory care. Number one, be compassionate. (Also, empathetic, respectful, kind, loving, patient.)

Number two, know where your parent is in the disease process. Why is this important? Because you can correlate this to a mental age using the Functional Assessment Staging Test (FAST).

Here’s an example: at stage 5, people are no longer able to survive without assistance. This is typically when you’ll start thinking about moving your parent into memory care. At this point, your parent will have a mental age of a 5 to 7 year-old.

But when do you actually pull the trigger on moving your parent into memory care? For most families, it’s around stage 6c (needs help toileting), 6d (urinary incontinence), or 6e (fecal incontinence). At these points in the disease process, you’re looking at a mental age of a 2 to 4 year-old.

So, with that information tucked away, consider the following sections on how and when to talk to your parent about moving into memory care.


How To Talk To Your Parent

Remember who powdered your butt.

Technically, you’re in charge of your parent now. However, anyone who changed your diapers is always going to feel like she’s in charge, even if she can’t expressly say it. Modulate your tone accordingly.

Act like a pro.

I’ve been called into countless situations after the family’s had no luck, instructed to “talk some sense into” a parent who’s refusing to move. Here’s where the wheels come off the bus: the family tries to sell it as a trip to Disneyland, then an act of love, then uses reason and logic.

Reminder #1: Reason and logic don’t work.

Reminder #2: Feelings just are.

Also, asking someone with the mental age of a 2 to 4 year-old to do something they don’t want to do is known as an exercise in futility. You can get caught up on the idea of agreement if you want, but you know the bottom line is you’re moving your parent into memory care.

Wouldn’t you like that to be as not-traumatic as possible? So, instead of wasting your time going for agreement, let’s reframe this issue. Here’s my secret to success, below.

This is what I do instead: I listen.

I listen to every last bit of it. True, it’s easier for me because your dad isn’t pushing my buttons. Still, I listen. And I empathize and validate.

Instead of trying to convince your parent how great it’s going to be, I listen and then I tell him I can absolutely see why he’s so upset. I’m certain I’d be upset too! I hate the whole deal for him. I reassure him he never, ever, EVER has to like it!

The End. No arguing.

When To Talk To Your Parent

It’s all about you…

We know that oversharing causes extreme anxiety in people living with dementia. The extreme anxiety is almost always manifested by repetitive questions. So, let’s begin with the end in mind. Ask yourself how many times you want to answer repetitive questions about the move.

If, like most people, your answer is “next to never,” then don’t share the information before it’s actually happening.

Also keep in mind that once you’ve made the decision to overshare, you’ve committed yourself to answering the same question with patience and kindness, as though every time is the first time.

Once more, for emphasis: you made the decision. Now you own the consequences.

Instead of oversharing, think about when your kids were little and they had to get shots. Did you tell them a month in advance? A week? The same day? Or did you follow the nurse’s lead and it actually turned out okay? Same goes with your parent. Follow your placement consultant and/or memory care director’s lead on this.

Except when it’s actually all about your parent!

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you need to be completely open and honest about this with your parent, otherwise you’re a horrible person.

Again, go back to the kids getting shots example above. Some people get stuck on the “but I could never lie!” point. Think about it like this: What’s the KINDEST, most LOVING thing you could do for your parent in this moment?

If you can say something nice (or nothing at all) when an acquaintance is sporting a hideous new hairdo, you can do the same for your parent, right?

Christy Turner is a speaker and consultant, the founder of DementiaSherpa.com, and creator of the program What To Do When Your Parent or Partner Has Dementia. She’s a regular contributor on The Alzheimer’s Podcast  with her segments “Guiding You Through Rough Terrain with The Dementia Sherpa.” Christy has enjoyed the privilege of working with over 1200 people living with dementia and their families.