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Keeping a Sense of Home Alive

by Judy Cornish

How to make a move to a care facility less distressing

At DAWN, we believe in preserving dignity and autonomy and allowing people to age in place for as long as possible. However, it is not always feasible to keep someone who is experiencing dementia at home. Here are a few more tips about how to make a move from home into a care facility less distressing.

Develop security in others before the move

If your loved one has been living at home with dementia for some time, it is likely that his or her sense of security is met exclusively by family members and being in the home. All too often, as the ability to take part in conversations or succeed at errands and tasks falters, people become isolated. It’s not that anyone intends that this happen, it simply will occur unless someone is available who knows how to facilitate conversation and maintain connections for people experiencing memory loss and confusion.

Here at DAWN, we begin working with new clients by introducing a caregiver as a friend and companion to spend time with in the community. When a client is facing a move, this becomes especially important. As they spend time with us, our new clients learn that they are safe. They accept being with us in the car even though they can’t recall the way home because we always bring them back safely; they stop being afraid to meet people they can’t remember because we manage conversation for them and destigmatize memory loss; they run errands with us or eat out without fear because we chatter about what’s happening and what will happen next.

How do we help someone feel secure in our care? (DAWN - ginkgo leaves)

When the time comes to move from home into a facility, we continue our visits and outings so that our clients experience continuity and routine. With a sense of security that extends beyond just family members and the home, it is much easier for someone with dementia to acclimate when a move becomes necessary.

Give the sense of your continued presence after the move

Having dementia means losing the ability to learn new things—such as how to do a task or recognize new faces or names—but the ability to learn is not entirely lost. Because the intuitive thinking processes remain intact, people experiencing dementia continue to learn experientially. Keep in mind that people don’t stop experiencing things just because they have become unable to recall or recount them.

This makes it very important that we spend time with people with dementia immediately after a move into a new home or care situation. If we don’t, they will associate the move with abandonment, which is a feeling that is very difficult to unlearn.

Be there as much as possible in the first few weeks after a move

During the first few weeks after a move, you want your loved one to learn that you will continue to be present in the new home and that when you’re not there, you’ll be returning soon. You don’t have to be there for every meal, but you do need to be there more often than not. Help your loved one find tablemates that she or he is comfortable with. Escort your loved one to activities and then make arrangements for the facility to continue to provide escorts when you are not there. (This is a paid service that can be arranged.)

If you are primarily present at first, when the new surroundings and routine are still strange and scary, your loved one will internalize the knowledge that you are still a part of their life. There is no greater gift you can give to someone with dementia who is experiencing a move than the sense that they are still loved and in the circle of their families.