Moving a Parent with Alzheimer’s or Dementia

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia can be bewildering and taxing, even on good days. While you remember your loved one as a mother who enjoyed spontaneous outings around town or a father who could find his way with ease through any hardware store, now they might no longer remember your name or are fearful when there is a change in routine.

When you can no longer care for your parents, there are communities specifically designed to provide the specialized care that Alzheimer’s or dementia requires. If you are considering such a community for a parent, but dread the trauma that the transition will cause, there are a number of steps you can take to make the moving process less traumatic.

Establish a StoryCar on the Open Road

You might be unable to imagine successfully moving your parent to a community that’s only a couple of miles away, but for Sharon Shields-Rios, this is her responsibility as the director of quality assurance at Autumn Leaves. Autumn Leaves specializes in memory care, and one of their services is a free transport service for families whose loved one is joining one of their communities. Whether the new resident lives in California, Pennsylvania or just a few towns away, Shields-Rios is one of the nurses dedicated to performing this transport service. She has successfully assisted more than 30 families in moving a loved one, and during her three years she has learned all the tricks to making the moving process, whether by airplane or automobile, easier for all involved.

A successful move begins with the story. Though seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia may be physically present with us, in their minds they could be reliving previous times of when they were a child or when they were still married. To make the moving process easier, Shields-Rios recommends tapping into their reality and asking, “What do you think is going to happen?” or “Where do you think you are going?” If a parent thinks they are visiting your sister, then play to that reality. Say you are taking a drive to visit the sister. Though you might be uncomfortable not being completely truthful with your parent, Shields-Rios says these “realities” will make moving less traumatic in the long term.

What to Expect on Moving Day

On the day of the move, Shields-Rios says there are “a lot of moving parts you have to consider” to make the move successful. One consideration is how far you are moving your parent to determine how much planning is required. When moving a resident by vehicle, she rents a van to ensure there is enough space—not only for the resident and a family member who might be accompanying them, but also for any luggage that might be brought. She also makes sure that medication, a jacket or blanket, snacks and spare clothes are brought along.

To entertain your parent during the ride, she says it is important to “keep them occupied without over-stimulating them.” Bring along activities that your parent enjoys doing, such as magazines, crossword puzzles or a tablet with his/her favorite movies.Plane in Flight

These recommendations apply to flying as well, but Shields-Rios takes additional steps to ensure the flight is smooth for everyone involved. One of these is purchasing direct flights to avoid layovers, even if that means a longer drive to or from the airport. At the airport, she has the resident in a wheelchair and when at security, she explains to the security screening personnel that the person she is traveling with has dementia, which speeds the pat-down process.

When boarding an airplane, Shields-Rios has learned through experience to request a wheelchair, which ensures the senior is escorted onto the plane first. Once on board, she advises using an aisle chair (a small wheelchair designed to fit plane aisles) to help transport them to their seat. And though you may think a window seat would be best, instead, she recommends an aisle seat, making it easier to move your parent when the flight is over.

And don’t forget: While you are in transit from home to the community, reinforce the story each time your parent asks what is happening.

Creating a Life at the Community

Before arriving at the community, you should already have your parent’s room filled with belongings so he/she will recognize familiar objects. While this will not eliminate all the confusion around the move—Shields-Rios says it can take 10-14 days for them to really adjust and get into a routine—it will establish the groundwork. And even when your parent is moved into a community, Shields-Rios recommends continuing with the story until your parent is fully adjusted to community life. For example, if your mother asks when she will leave, say that her home is being worked on and it is best for her to stay at the community for a bit longer until the work is done. Eventually, your loved one will adjust to his/her new routine and surroundings and accept the community as home.

Though you may believe that you must be the one to accompany your parent during the move, Shields-Rios says it is OK for family members to admit that it’s too emotionally difficult to be involved in the moving process. In some cases, she recommends family members not accompany their parent during the move to make the transition easier for both the adult children and parent. In these situations, Shields-Rios says, “I put myself into their shoes and look at how difficult it is,” and she will take pictures throughout the move to let families know how their loved one is doing. Of the families she has helped, Shields-Rios says all are appreciative of this service.

Written by’s Andrea Watts.

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