I mean, a week ago, my mom called me once in sheer panic, yelling, “Help me, Susan, there’s a man here in my bedroom, and I don’t know what to do!”
The man was my brother, who was staying with her while he was in town. She knew that — or at least she did at one point. He had been with her all week.
If you have a loved one with dementia, you know what it’s like to have a conversation with them one moment, only for them not to remember a thing about it a short while later.
Yet, we still knew it was important for Mom to participate in the discussion. I found an article online about tips for talking about moving to memory care with someone with memory loss, and it was super helpful.
Here’s what I learned.
It’s All About Tone
Although Mom might not always be able to comprehend the words that we’re saying, the article reminded me that she can pick up on our tone and rhythm. I reminded my sister and brother to be warm and open and to speak gently and soothingly.
Connect to the Senses
Through our research, I learned that sensory stimulation — anything that appeals to one of the five senses — can help Mom feel more comfortable and relaxed, connect with the world around her, and improve her overall mood, self-esteem, and well-being
We talked about memory care as a nice place with a lot of caring people who will make sure she has everything she needs. We focused a lot on the senses: It’s a place that smells good with a lot of happy sounds, music, and laughter. There’s beautiful décor and lighting. And it’s a place where her family and friends will love to spend time with her.
Talk About Right Now
The article suggested using the phrase “for right now,” which we did and seemed to help make the move feel less permanent and overwhelming.
We all were very intentional about validating Mom’s feelings. We know that she’s sensitive about her dementia symptoms. We used a lot of statements like, “I understand this situation is frustrating” and “I can tell this is hard for you.” It was hard for us, too.
We provided one another lots of reassurance throughout the conversation by making eye contact, smiling, and holding her hand.
Give It Time
In true Mom form, she answered something to the effect of, “We’ll see,” and that’s when I started looking to end the conversation. My sister and I left shortly after.
I know it was a lot for her to take in and I was glad things went OK, even though I knew we would be revisiting the whole “senior living” thing.
Do the Heavy Lifting First
Before sharing brochures from every senior living community in our area with Mom, we knew it would be important to thoroughly research and check on multiple communities to help pick the one that might be the best fit. This way, we could reference specific memory care activities and amenities that we thought Mom would appreciate.
Over the next few weeks, I set up appointments for my sister and me to tour memory care communities nearby. We knew we wanted a place that offered positive, person-centered care and a holistic approach. I had printed off some questions to ask when touring, but really, my gut led the way.
When we walked into the place that would become Mom’s new home, it just felt right.
Focus on the Benefits
Once we found the right place, we were actually kind of excited to share the details with Mom.
We talked about the clubs and activities, the nutritious meals and snacks, and the staff and their compassion. She appreciated hearing about all the people who were going to be dedicated to caring for her.
We also wanted her to feel like she was in control, so we gave Mom some choices: Would you rather have a view of the courtyard or be close to the dining room? Would you rather do chair yoga or tai chi? Would you rather bring this recliner or that one?
Visit Before Move-in Day
To increase warm familiarity and a sense of safety with the memory care community, we made a few visits for lunch and to attend other events. This allowed the memory care partners time to get to know Mom, and time for my sister and me to talk about Mom’s hobbies, likes and dislikes, passions and pastimes, which will help the staff create an environment in which Mom will thrive.
Let Go of Guilt
Last week, I sat down at the kitchen table where Mom had served our family all those amazing home-cooked dinners over the years. It was there that I began the admission paperwork and intake forms necessary for her to start the next stage of her life. I knew in my heart that if she was fully aware of what was happening, she would approve.
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 this family made the move to Highgate Senior Living.