Feb 9, 2014

Relocating a Family Member with Alzheimer's

When Your Loved One with Alzheimer’s Has to be Moved, What Do You Do? Advice From A Daughter Who Has Been There!

Relocating a Family Member with Alzheimer's | Alzheimer's Reading Room

As Alzheimer’s progresses your loved one may reach a point where they need twenty-four hour care.

For some families providing this level of assistance, although challenging, is manageable if they live reasonably close by.

This article is dedicated to the decision-making quandary of relocating a family member with Alzheimer’s to be geographically closer to someone else, most likely a son or daughter.

This was my dilemma, but it’s not unique to me.

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By Elaine C Pereira
Alzheimer’s Reading Room

We are a very transient society dispersing families literally to all parts of the globe. Managing the evolving needs of someone with Alzheimer’s is daunting anyway, but further complicated when they are physically in another city, state or country.

If you’re wrestling with the decision between relocating your parent closer to you or trying to manage “things” long distance, keep these truths in mind.

Accepting Relocation

  1. Masking. My mother was the Master Masker! In the early stages of Alzheimer’s people can mask the truth, essentially avoid probing questions with vague answers, Yes/No responses or snippets like “Sure or Of course.” They are just savvy enough to circumvent a direct question.

    If there is incongruence between how your parent behaves in your presence and conflicting reports from others, your loved one may be masking the beginnings of their decline.

    *My Advice. Step out of denial! It is unlikely that your parent’s friends or professionals who see them regularly are fabricating mistruths. Ask the hard questions but be ready to hear the hard answers.
  2. What is Real? As a daughter to my mother with Dementia, I was handicapped by well-intended but nevertheless inconsistent information shared with me via phone. Face to face dialogue is still the epitome of meaningful reciprocal communication. Phone conversations and especially emails are subject to considerable misinterpretation.

    *My Advice.

    1. Face Time. Whatever it’s called, today’s technological advances allow for the best of face-to-face. Subtle innuendos are more visible when you can actually see one’s facial expressions.

    2. Professional Assessments. Network with or hire an unbiased, independent professional to evaluate your parent and report their findings to you. What do you need to hear, know or see to affirm the truth of your parent’s situation?

    3. Video! What the staff politely described as my mother being “a little upset in the lobby,” I would have labeled as “out-of-control, hysterical mania” from a person I barely recognized. Legalese aside, having “indisputable video evidence” (as they say in sports replays) can confirm your loved one’s deteriorating behaviors and the unequivocal need for more supervision. This strategy would have provided me invaluable information and empowered me to be proactive sooner.

Geographic Relocation

My mother and I lived two hours apart. Close, but not close enough.

Having dismissed many warnings from staff about my mother’s precarious state, I finally witnessed her bizarre explosion of hostility over an innocuous drapery rod.


 Suddenly every one of her goofy remarks, paranoid suspicions and irrational behaviors made perfect sense. Mom had Alzheimer’s and had to be moved!

If you live far enough away that you can’t logistically be a part of your parent’s time-consuming care, a facility that does is probably the best option.
  1. Any Relocation is Disruptive. Whether you move your parent from his/her home to a facility across the street or across the country, it will be a draining, emotional experience for everyone. Keep in mind that the home and surroundings that are familiar to them now will probably be insignificant as the disease advances. I believed erroneously that my mother was aware of and comforted by being around her “things.” But when we finally did relocate her, Mom never acknowledged the room arrangement, wall color, personal belongings or furniture. She only picked up one exquisite glass butterfly and said, “This is mine.” Strange!
  2. Like Goldilocks someone with Alzheimer’s often wanders into another resident’s room sits in their chair or plops on the bed. My mom did too, confirming that the physical aspects of her surroundings were meaningless at that time. Any bed would do.
  3. Community Resources. Are there friends, caregivers and/or family living near your parent who can really manage his/her daily care under your supervision long distance? It's a logistical nightmare, but doable for some. My dad and brothers had predeceased us, leaving the tough decisions on me.
  4. Familiar Senses! Current theory suggests people with Alzheimer’s are still “in there” and it’s up to us to find what connects for them. This “what” varies considerably, but a daughter or son’s face, voice, touch and even smell have been with their parent since birth. Close family members can trigger connections that others cannot, as they are part of long-term neurological memory.

    Read more on Talking Through the Senses on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room -- Five Alternative Ways to “Talk” With Someone Living with Dementia.
  5. The Inevitable End. Tragically Alzheimer’s is a progressive, neurological and fatal disease. It was important to me to see my mom as often as possible and be able to make informed decisions in her behalf as her disease advanced. As Mom had to be moved anyway, geographic proximity became tantamount; closer was better.

    The move itself was an emotional train wreck for my mother wrought with blistering accusations, hysteria, anger etc. But she would have acted out in the same way even if it had been next door. The up side was that she eventually mellowed. On the rare but precious moments when dementia’s fog lifted and my real Mom surfaced, she thanked me for all I had done for her and smiled as I massaged her hands!
In summary any relocation will be challenging, laced with a gazillion other adjectives.

From personal experience I do not regret the exhaustive toll moving my mother entailed and in the end, her end actually, I was grateful to be close. This may not be the best choice for everyone so take a deep breath and objectively weigh all of the options.

Elaine Pereira MA OTR/L CDP CDC, is a retired school occupational therapist who worked with special needs children. She earned her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy from Wayne State University and later completed her master’s degree. Pereira and her husband live in Michigan.

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