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A Guide to Transitioning from Assisted Living to Memory Care

Life is full of transitions; they’re part of what makes life so interesting. But some transitions are harder than others, and it can be difficult to determine the best time to actually make the transition. That’s especially true for the transition from assisted living to memory care. Whether you’re considering the move for yourself or a family member, it’s often hard to nail down when you need a higher level of support and the best way to get it.

As with many transitions, the right preparation can make all the difference. This article will help you understand assisted living and memory care, as well as how to evaluate and make the transition from one to another. The first step is to fully understand the difference between assisted living and memory care.

Assisted Living and Memory Care 101

Assisted living is a type of supportive living where trained professionals are available to help make daily life easier. Each resident receives the level of support that they need to live well and pursue their interests.

Is It Time to Transition from Assisted Living to Memory Care?

Moving from assisted living to memory care is a natural progression for many adults. They begin with a lower level of support and move up to a higher level of specialized support as needed. However, memory impairments can come on gradually and progress at varying rates, which means it can be hard for people to know if they or someone they care about needs to move to memory care. Here are some signs to look for if you find yourself in such a situation.

  • Struggling more when left alone. Supportive living environments assume that residents are able to keep themselves safe from moment to moment, but people with memory challenges often need more support. Memory care settings are structured so that residents have 24-hour supervision.
  • Starting to need more support than an assisted living environment can provide. Most people with dementia-related memory challenges find that they need more help as time goes on – avoid injury by moving to memory care as soon as the need arises.
  • Finding it more difficult to express needs and wants. The memory challenges associated with dementia impact communication, making it harder for those affected to understand others and express themselves. Memory care teams have the training and experience to navigate these challenges.
  • Needing more support when changing activities. Memory challenges make it harder to go through a day independently, as challenging symptoms like sunsetting (late day confusion) make everyday changes difficult. A memory care team is trained to help.
  • Wandering off and forgeting how to get back again. Wandering off is a normal part of having dementia-related memory challenges, but it’s also dangerous. Memory care units are designed to keep residents safe, preventing them from wandering away and getting lost.
  • Finding it harder to control emotions. Memory challenges often go hand-in-hand with difficulties in self-regulation. Memory care teams know how to help residents feel safe so that intense feelings are easier to manage.

The Transition to Memory Care, Step by Step

Moving into a memory care setting from an assisted living setting can take some adjustment. Like most transitions in life, it’s best to start the acclimation process as early as possible.

Before the Transition

Be open to advice from friends and family. Your family and friends want you to live a full, safe life. If you’re the one broaching this difficult situation with a parent, spouse or friend, expect them to offer some resistance. Be clear that you’re there to support them and help them live a stronger life. Cover the reasons for the decision, and the questions that were asked to arrive at the right choice: What aspects of life will be easier with the support of memory care professionals? How will you or your relative or friend feel better after the transition?

Once the decision has been made, it can be difficult to find the right place. If you live in a community with both assisted living and memory care, it makes things a little easier. You may need to move to different accommodations, but you can stay in the community you already know and are comfortable with. This is one reason that many individuals choose communities with multiple levels of support even when they don’t need specialized memory care when they first move to a supportive environment.

If you have to look for a new place, know that you might encounter waiting lists. Patience is important, but it’s worth it when you or your relative or friend moves into the right community with a staff that provides the support you need.

During the Transition

There will be strong emotions during packing. They all need to be met with compassion, empathy and understanding. Also, anticipate a bit of disorientation. Being in a new space is difficult when someone is feeling uncertain about their memory. There will probably be some confusion, but the staff will have extensive training and experience with memory impairments and can help ease the transition.

Expect the memory care setting to have less room for belongings than an assisted living apartment. This can be difficult for someone who’s used to having a private space. The best memory care communities will make it easy for you to personalize your room with the mementos that mean the most to you, but some beloved belonging may need to find more permanent homes with other family members or friends.

After the Transition

Don’t expect the feeling of “transition” to end once the physical move is done, or the day after. It always takes time to get acclimated to a move and that’s even more true when someone struggles with disorientation and confusion. Anticipate some difficult moments that will resolve themselves in time.

Those feelings may affect visits with family and friends. Know that it’s okay to feel nervous and want to see people you care about. It’s also okay to want to settle in on your own for a few days. It’s also okay to tell your relatives and friends that you want support and to encourage them to visit. Those closest to you can help make your new space feel like home.

If your family member or friend is moving into memory care, think about whether the person is likely to want time alone or social time. Expect visits to go better at some hours of the day over others and know that you’ll probably have to play your visiting schedule by ear based on how the person feels. Most of all, don’t put a timeline on adjustment. Everyone acclimates to any new situation at their own pace.

Tips for Helping the Transition to Go Smoothly

Here are some strategies that are useful for everyone involved.

  1. The first and possibly most important thing is to keep routines as stable as possible. For example, try to move on a day when you or your relative doesn’t have to change any appointments.
  2. Arrive at the memory care community at a time of day when you or your relative or friend will be the most alert, relaxed and sociable. For some people, that will be mornings; for others, it will be after lunch. Avoid late afternoons or evenings due to the possibility of sundowning, which can make it more difficult for them to handle disruptions in routine.
  3. Pack familiar objects, but nothing that can’t be replaced. Things get lost often in any type of move. If there’s something that you absolutely can’t replace, ask people who work there about the safest place to put the item.
  4. Bring what’s going to be useful and label every item. That way, if someone picks it up and thinks it’s theirs, it can get returned to you (or your relative or friend).
  5. Pack copies of pictures – no originals! – and write the names of the people in the pictures on the back. It can help the process to put together a photo album of these labeled pictures. Photo albums are great tools for helping new memory care residents connect with staff.
  6. Carve out plenty of time for visits in the first few weeks. Reschedule them as necessary, since the rhythm of your day (or your relative or friend’s day) will be different in a new setting.

Advice for Transitioning Adults and their Supporting Friends and Family

Staying connected is one of the most important elements of the transition to memory care. It can also be one of the most challenging because a new memory care resident needs time to get used to new faces and routines, and long visits with familiar faces can cause the acclimation phase to take longer.

Many people with experience in memory care recommend shorter visits at first. It cultivates feelings of connection and safety, without the emotional roller-coaster that long visits can sometimes bring.

That said, if you or your relative or friend is having anxiety about being in a new place, it’s okay to visit or ask for visits more often. Longer visits can happen after you or your relative or friend has been living in the memory care community for a while and a routine has been established.

Remember, “a while” will look different for every person. Only the person who has moved can truly know when the transition has been completed.

Finally, take time to connect with the staff and build relationships with them. That goes for people who are moving into memory care as well as supportive friends and family. They are your support network and your fellow community members. Tell them what you think they might need to know.

Here’s to the Future

It’s important to choose a memory care community that shares your philosophy. The same goes for assisted living. Once you find a community that matches your desired lifestyle, consider whether or not it offers multiple levels of support if you’re not sure whether you or your relative or friend needs assisted living or memory care.

Remember, every transition has an opportunity in it, even when we didn’t choose to make the transition. Look at a move to memory care as a chance to once again practice doing what’s best for yourself and those who love you. The additional support provided will help you live your best life.

For information and help on making the transition from assisted living to memory care, contact us at Spring Creek. We have trained staff that assist residents with ADLs and memory impairments in our assisted living and memory care communities. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have or help you find the best supportive living community in Plano, Texas.

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