Guest Columns

Easing the family's transition from home to care community

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Deborah Shouse, author of "Love in the Land of Dementia"
Deborah Shouse, author of "Love in the Land of Dementia"

Even though I'd worked as an activities director and administrator in long-term care, placing my mother in assisted living and then in memory care was initially a wrenching and emotional experience. 

Sure, I visited the facilities, studied their activities programs, talked with staff, and ascertained they seemed a fit for Mom. But I still agonized that my mother might be lonely, bored, and forgotten.  I also worried our visits would be awkward and unfulfilling.

The move from home to care community can be difficult for all concerned. Here are some suggestions for helping the family feel comforted, supported, and satisfied during this tender transition period.

Focus on your potential resident

If the potential resident is there, focus on him during your initial meetings. Ask him questions about himself and his interests.

Suggest ideas and areas for spending quality time together at the facility.

“Here's the library,” the administrator said, on our first visit to the community. I looked blankly at the room with a wall of bookshelves. Mom wasn't really able to read any more.

“Some of our families like to set up a game of cards here,” she continued. “Or they sit on the sofa and leaf at magazines or photo albums together.”

The sofa looked comfortable and I could envision Mom and me huddled together, leafing through a colorful travel magazine.

We visited the family dining room, “You can reserve this room for private meals together,” she told us. At the solarium, she said, “Here's a good place for quiet. Some families just like to listen to music here.” Her suggestions helped me see the rooms as places where I could connect with Mom.

Introduce some key staff members

We brought Mom with us on our second visit to the memory care community. When the marketing director opened the locked door, the head nurse was there to greet us. She welcomed us and spoke warmly to Mom.

“Debbie and Paul have told me so much about you, Fran,” Pam said. “You and I have something very important in common: we are both nurses.” As we strolled the corridor, Pam introduced us to some of the staff that would be caring for Mom. Just learning people's names and watching how attentive they were to Mom made the idea of her moving in more palatable.


Show families how their loved ones can stay engaged in their favorite hobbies

Often family members don't realize that you can adapt hobbies to meet changing abilities.  Share examples of how the new resident can enjoy beloved hobbies, such as gardening, cooking, or painting, in the care facility.

Offer tips for meaningful visits

Friends and family members are sometimes shy about visiting someone living in a care community. Offer the primary care partners ideas for keeping others involved. This can include ideas for easy activities to enrich the visits, such as call and response poetry reading, creating a picture together using colored pens, or listening to favorite music together. Bringing in well-behaved pets can be a great icebreaker and a catalyst for meaningful conversation. Encourage them to keep out-of-town friends and relatives involved through Skype, emails, or telephone

Connect family care partners with each other

It's hard being the new kid, even when you're a seasoned elder. And it's hard having your loved one move into a care community or memory care community when you don't know anyone. Introduce each new family to at least one other family. Choose a family who loves your facility and who visits regularly, a family who uses the community and knows the staff. Meeting the “neighbors” can help families feel anchored and gives them peers to talk to.

Enjoy the results

During the initial days, I felt wretched and guilty because Mom was living with strangers. Gradually, as I got to know the residents, as I chatted with other family members, as I learned the life stories of the staff, I understood Mom's life had been enhanced rather than short-changed.

Feeling that sense of connection and community helps families relax and feel that their loved one has found the perfect home.

Deborah Shouse is a writer, speaker, editor, and dementia advocate. She is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together, features dozens of experts in the field of creativity and dementia

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