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5 Ways to Help a Loved One With Dementia Adjust to a Nursing Home

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Updated June 10, 2014

Changes in the environment can be challenging for people with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. If your loved one with dementia is moving to a nursing home, how can you help with that transition? Try these 5 tips:

  • Choose a few familiar items and pictures to bring
    Your space in a nursing home is limited, but it's important to bring a few things with your loved one that are recognizable and familiar.

    For example, rather than going and purchasing a new bedspread for your father's room, bring the one from his bed at home. Does he have a picture of his wife and him on the wall at home? Ask the facility about hanging it in his new room. If he is particularly attached to a book about fishing, bring it along.

  • Provide information about your loved one
    You have the advantage of knowing your family member, his history, his likes and dislikes. Share that information with the staff.

    Often, there will be a meeting shortly after admission where staff will ask questions about your loved one, his needs and his preferences. If this doesn't happen, ask to speak with the nursing supervisor on your father's hall or the social worker. You can then choose a few things that you want to share with them, such as the best time of day for a shower, what he really dislikes to eat, or the nickname that your dad loved to be called. When you share these things, your father is more likely to respond positively to the staff and the staff to your father since they know him as a person, not just a patient.

  • Visit frequently for short intervals
    Typically, people with memory loss adjust better to changes if a reassuring, familiar face is near them. You may need to remind him several times that this is his home. Spend time with him in his room and go through some pictures together. Remind him that you love him. If leaving is hard initially, either for you or for him, you may want to have staff distract him and then you can slip out the door. Sometimes mealtime is a good time to do this.

    Also, be aware that occasionally people take it out on family members and become very angry with them for making them move. If your visits increase his anger and frustration, it's okay for you to visit less frequently initially since you seem to trigger those feelings. However, this should not be used as a punishment or a threat. Remember that people with dementia often don't have control over their emotions and behaviors.

  • Wait until he's adjusted to take him out
    You may feel the urge to take him out for a drive shortly after he's moved in, but it is usually better for your loved one to get into a routine and feel settled before you do that. Give him a little time to adjust to his new home before you take him on an outing.

  • Encourage participation in activities
    Maybe you're not sure what to do or say when you visit your father in a new facility. Consider going with him to an activity. Nursing homes offer several activities, and becoming involved in them can help foster socialization and provide stimulation for his mind. You can go with him to exercise class or the music program. This is a positive way to spend time with him and help in his adjustment to the facility.

Remember that this may be harder for you than for your loved one.

Often, the transition of someone with dementia to a nursing home is harder on the family members watching it than the person experiencing it. While you continue to wonder how your father is doing and if he is sleeping and eating well, he might already be adjusted and feel at home. You will continue to remember the way it used to be, but people with Alzheimer's typically live in the present. If this is the case for your loved one, may you be able to take comfort in it.

If your father continues to struggle with adjusting to the facility beyond 30 days, consider speaking with his social worker so you can work together on developing a plan to help your loved one feel at home.

Sources:

Alzheimer’s Association. Moving to a facility. Accessed April 25, 2012. http://www.alz.org/nyc/in_my_community_17491.asp

Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Blue Care Network. Mental Health and Nursing Home Residents. Accessed April 25, 2012. www.iog.wayne.edu/pdfs/mental_health.pdf

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