Transitioning a Parent with Dementia to Assisted Living

I received a great question recently in our Ask an Expert forum from one of our readers, Mark. Mark is struggling with how he should care for his aging father suffering with dementia. Moreover, how should he go about making the difficult transition to assisted living care?

Mark is facing a really big challenge here. Getting any parent to move safely, but against their will, is one of the very most difficult situations adult children face. Relocating any senior can be traumatic in itself, but especially when the senior is affected by dementia. It is important that you as the adult child be understanding about the situation at hand. Remember, they are essentially giving up a large measure of control within their lives. They are parting with familiar surrounding, safety and security. As trying of a time this is for you, think about how difficult it is for them.

Ways to Make the Transition Easier

Those with dementia may not be able to fully participate in having a choice about making a move, but let your loved one have some say in the matter, if at all possible. Generally speaking, the more lead time you give a senior, the more likely they will accept the change. This tends to vary a bit, depending on how advanced the dementia is.

Seniors do better if you make the “new” place resemble the “old” place. Bring some familiar things and favorite items in the move. Whether it be an old piece of furniture, a throw blanket or family photos, you want to bring items that will make them feel at home and relaxed in their new abode.

Caregiving for your loved one means that you have to see yourself in a different role than the one you’ve played all your life – especially if the loved one is your own parent. Now you have to make the tough decisions about their life. Don’t treat them like a child, but be sure to respect them while making the decisions that must be made for their own protection.

If you try all the tricks of the trade—involve their input, be very patient, positive and encouraging — and none of these things work, then make the move swiftly and smoothly. Try to do whatever you can to make the plan more attractive to them. But in the end, you might just have to take the bull by the horns and do it.

Additional Tips

Here are some additional tips I shared with Mark:

- Consider bringing in a paid companion from outside the facility who can help your loved one get into a comfortable routine.

- Although it may seem difficult, try not to bring them back to the old residence. Often this can do more harm than good and even trigger depression or aggression. On the flip side, outings to your senior’s old hangouts around town are definitely encouraged.

- Bring in a CD player and DVD player to the room. Favorite movies and music can often be very calming and put your loved one at ease.

If you’re struggling with this difficult decision, like Mark, I wish you all the best in trying to make it as smooth of a transition as possible. Above all, remember that you must embrace your responsibility of keeping your loved one safe and healthy.

Best regards,

Tom