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Moving parent from assisted living to memory care may require creativity

Carol Bradley Bursack, Minding Our Elders columnist

Dear Carol: My mom has been in assisted living for six years and she's loved it. Unfortunately, while she's relatively healthy, her short-term memory has nearly disappeared and her ability to make decisions is negligible. The doctor says that she is ready for a memory care unit, and there's one in the same facility, but she's resisting.

I know that we have to move her, but I don't know how to do it without upsetting her. Do we just tell Mom that this is what she needs to do and then simply move her? I'm terrified that she'll give up and start failing of we move her but she's going to need extra care. — Jen

Dear Jen: This is scary for you, but you are doing the right thing. It sounds as if the AL where your mom lives has been wonderful, so there's no reason to think that anything would be different in their memory care. Your mom likely hates the idea of the memory unit because there is a stigma attached to cognitive issues.

Before I go further, I need to state that I believe it's wrong to do what I'm suggesting below with anyone who is cognitively sound. Normally, if someone needs to move, they need to know that this is happening and why.

However, when people are severely impaired cognitively, we often need to join them in their world because they are losing touch with ours. That means, at times, that the kindest thing to do is to smooth the road which is what I'm suggesting here.

Talk with your mom about moving to a different room without bringing up the fact that it's in a memory unit. Most likely, she will still resist, but that's a place to start. After a few weeks of intermittently mentioning the move, the family can make it happen.

While one family member takes your mom to a hair appointment and lunch, or to spend time with a cooperative friend who perhaps lives in a nearby town, others can move her personal belongings, her bedding, and as much furniture as possible, to her new home. Hang the pictures. Do everything possible to minimize change.

She'll likely be confused when you bring her home, but tell her that you have a surprise waiting. When she goes to her new room and sees her own furniture, bedding, and personal belongings, she'll see her familiar furnishings.

Don't fuss or act worried about your mom's reaction. When she complains about the move, tell her that there wasn't a choice and, since she liked the AL so much, you arranged for her to keep a room there rather than move to a nursing home.

A similar approach can be used for moving someone from home to AL. That type of move represents a bigger change than moving within a building, but familiar items already placed in new surroundings can make any move much less stressful since furnishings often signify home.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at She can be reached at