How I Addressed My Siblings' Objections to Moving Mom to Memory Care

Tired of your phone ringing in the middle of the night? Here’s what might be triggering your elderly mother’s fears.
Addressing SiblingWhen my mom called me terrified at 3 in the morning for the fifth time, I knew something had to change.

The problem is my siblings. My out-of-town brother, Tom, who only sees Mom once or twice a year, hears a different version of every story from my mom than he gets from me. I see the dirty house and empty fridge and social withdrawal. He, on the other hand, sees a smiling face on Zoom and hears the same voice over the phone that he has since he moved 20 years ago.

My younger sister isn’t much help, either. When Mom is adamant she’s going to spend every last day she has in the home where she raised her children with Dad, Nancy promises she’ll always be there to care for her, a promise she has no ability to follow through with. In Nancy’s mind, Mom still has 30 years left. Nancy is in denial that Mom’s dementia is getting worse. She can’t bear to see Mom like this, so she defers responsibility to me on a regular basis.

When Siblings Disagree

I know things don’t have to be like this. My husband recently navigated caregiving with his sisters, and everything went so smoothly. His mom communicated her desires, the siblings all agreed, and everyone was supportive. It’s left me wondering on more than one occasion: Why can’t that be my family?

Although I knew it probably wouldn’t go well, my husband encouraged me to schedule a family meeting. Somehow, we needed to get on the same page about moving Mom to a senior living community and figure out the best way to care for her as a united front.

I needed them to understand where Mom’s physical and mental health truly was — and I needed them to be more in the loop when it came to my caregiving roles and responsibilities so they had a sense of just how much time was being invested.

When I pitched the idea of a family meeting to my brother and sister via email, I could hear their eyes roll. However, I stood firm: Mom needs help, I need help, and I want to make decisions as a team. They agreed.

I came prepared with my trackers, a report from Mom’s physician, and an agenda. We were going to talk about:

  • Mom’s health status and increasing care needs
  • What support I need as the primary caregiver
  • Who will make decisions
  • What each person can contribute
  • Tasks that need to be done
  • What I’ve learned about assisted living and memory care

After sharing my concerns — her safety, declining health, changes in mood and behavior, caregiver burnout — I asked for help. I explained that I didn’t expect us to divvy up tasks equally, but I wanted us to work together as much as possible. I asked my sister to give me a hand with grocery shopping and meal preparation. I asked my brother to contribute funds for a housekeeper or plan respite visits every few months to give me a break. And I asked them both to hear me out when it came to senior living.

My brother and sister had lots of concerns, fears, and guilt. Here were their main objections to memory care and how I handled them.

The Concern: Memory Care Communities Overmedicate Residents

“Aren’t memory care communities filled with sedated residents and uncaring staff,” my brother asked.

I shared my experiences visiting my co-worker’s mom: Life in memory care is far from institutional. Spaces felt like home while providing care and a safe environment. Residents are encouraged to stay mentally, physically, and socially active.

Beyond that, the staff get to know residents as individuals. They learned that, for example, my colleague’s mom likes ice cream after lunch and prefers art over bingo, not just that she has dementia.

The Concern: Residents Surrender Their Rights and Independence

“Mom has such an independent spirit. I don’t want her to surrender her decision-making rights and independence,” my sister said.

I told her that senior living can actually help Mom be more independent. The care partners work hard to create an environment of positive encouragement and use a variety of techniques, such as being at eye level when offering choices, to help residents feel confident as they make decisions. Even when residents have trouble doing things for themselves, there are still ways to encourage independence. I saw a team member helping guide a fork into a resident’s mouth, for example, as opposed to feeding them.

The Concern: Mom Will Feel Abandoned

“But what if Mom feels alone or abandoned?” my sister worried.

I reassured her that quality memory care communities offer a variety of programs that engage residents mentally, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. One day, Mom might enjoy afternoon tea served London-style with fellow residents, and the next, we could join her in the pub for happy hour.

Additionally, some offer companion suites, which not only are more affordable than private rooms, but also encourage companionship, which makes the transition to memory care easier, ensuring that two residents with similar interests have been paired together.

The Concern: Residents Watch TV All Day

“Won’t she just be sitting in front of the TV in a locked unit,” my brother assumed.

Although there are some secure memory care units, a “secured” or “locked” unit doesn’t feel as secluded as it may sound. Often housed within an assisted living community, a memory care program offers a more structured environment with set schedules and routines to create a stress-free lifestyle, safety features to ensure the health of the residents, and programs designed to cultivate cognitive skills and provide social opportunities.

I reminded them that Mom basically sits in front of the TV at home all day anyway. At least in memory care, instead of being isolated at home, she will have the opportunity to make new friends and lead a fuller life.

The Concern: We Promised She Wouldn’t Have to Move

“But I promised I wouldn’t make her move,” my sister admitted. 

I couldn’t help myself: “Well, do you want Mom to move in with you?” I asked, even though I knew the answer. 

Choosing to move a loved one into a memory care community is not the worst-case scenario, I told my siblings. Right now, it’s actually the best thing we can do for Mom. We’re taking care of her by getting her the level of care she needs.  

Moving to senior living does not mean Mom is abandoned, either. We can still spend as much time with her as we can, talk frequently with the care partners and team members, and manage her overall care. We don’t need to feel guilty for doing what’s right. 

I told my siblings to take some time to think about it. I gave them brochures from nearby memory care communities that offer person-centered care. I said I’d check in with them in a week to hear what they think is best for Mom and why they think that.

The Outcome

What happened next? 

Find out in the eBook, Moving Mom. You’ll read more of this first-person perspective, based on true stories from Highgate residents and their families, on how these siblings got on the same page and how they involved their mother in the discussion.

Moving Mom