The adjustment period for a loved one transitioning into a dementia care community can span days, weeks, or months. Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict how long the adjustment period will last or what challenges and environmental triggers will have to be overcome during the process.
No matter how long the adjustment period takes, however, there are things we can do to ease our loved one’s struggles, fears, and anxiety stemming from the initial move into dementia care. Family caregivers should also acknowledge and address their own struggles. Family counseling and family support groups at dementia care communities can help ease the transition for everyone.
After the Move to Dementia Care: Unhappiness vs. Adjustment
The initial move into dementia care has been linked to increased behavioral symptoms like depression, agitation, and confusion. Family members often struggle to determine if these responses are expressions of unhappiness or typical responses to the adjustment.
Experts believe nearly 40 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease suffer from “significant” depression, so the unhappiness-versus-adjustment question isn’t an easy one to answer. Symptoms of depression can include sadness that lasts for more than a day, declining interest in almost all activities, fatigue and tiredness, feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts or talk of death.
Likewise, agitation is a common response to the initial move into dementia care. Pacing, restlessness, wandering, and emotional outbursts can all result. Physicians may elect to prescribe antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or other medications. Otherwise, a few simple steps might help ease your loved one’s behavioral responses to the transition to dementia care:
- Create a calm, relaxing environment.
- Avoid triggers like television, loud noises, or certain situations.
- Check for signs of pain, hunger, thirst, and other causes of discomfort.
- Simplify tasks and routines to alleviate frustration.
- Encourage exercise.
Serving as a liaison between dementia care staff, medical providers, and your loved one will ensure that everything possible is being done to ease the transition into dementia care and to address any underlying conditions that could be the root cause of unhappiness.
Helping a Loved One Adjust to Dementia Care
Because everyone’s transition into dementia care is different, there’s no surefire list of solutions to address every need and situation that will arise. There are, however, a number of general guidelines that have been found to help ease the transition for the vast majority of people.
Telling a loved one about the move to dementia care in advance can create anticipation anxiety and negative thoughts that can culminate into negative actions. Instead, wait until just before the move, or even the day of the move, to begin the transition on an even keel. Then, you might benefit from “fiblets” and not being forthcoming with news that this will be your loved one’s new home, at least until he or she is more settled in.
After the move, these tips and techniques are widely used to help ease the transition:
- Make It Home: Bringing important or familiar items from home like photos, wall art, and furniture will make the dementia care apartment feel familiar and homey, helping reduce agitation and creating a sense of calm.
- Schedule Wisely: It might be wise for families to avoid visiting for a week or two after the initial move, as hard as that might be, to allow the resident time to bond with staff and his or her new neighbors; then, visiting frequently is a great idea.
- Encourage Engagement: Engaging in community activities is a sign of a successful transition; encouraging loved ones to take part, even accompanying them to activities if need be, will put them on the path to a successful transition.
Dementia care staff members have helped many, many residents successfully transition into dementia care. They can be an invaluable source of tips and techniques that you can use. Being in communication with them throughout the process is another key to success.
Adjusting to Dementia Care: Final Thoughts
There’s no way to predict how long the adjustment to dementia care will take. Meet with your loved one’s medical provider to address any underlying medical issues like depression and mood disorder before the move. Then, bring familiar items from home, give loved ones a period to bond with dementia care providers without family visitors, and encourage engagement in community activities to help ease the transition. Finally, dementia care providers will be able to provide helpful and insightful guidance along the way, too.