Alzheimer's: Frequent Relocations May Speed Decline

Caregiver, patient expert

Specialized care is needed at different stages of dementia. Frequently, the only way to provide that kind of care is to move the person to either a memory unit or a family home, while supplementing care provided by family members with paid in-home caregivers. In many cases, it’s simply unrealistic to expect to never have to relocate someone who has dementia.

At the same time, frequently moving someone with dementia around can be problematic. While it can be a challenge for anyone, it becomes even more difficult for a person with dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Try for a moment to put yourself in the place of someone with Alzheimer’s. You look at a set of keys, not certain at the moment, what they were meant for. So you put them in the refrigerator so they don’t spoil. Meanwhile, a package of meat is on the shelf where you want to put the keys so you mistakenly put the meat in the cupboard. And so on and so on. Your familiar world has become one confused mess.

While it’s not this bad in the earlier stages, dementia is progressive and incurable. Having to relocate during the early stages of the disease may be okay, but as time goes by, even having a chair moved from one place to another in the same room can cause confusion. Too much confusion often leads to stress and can further aggravate the disease. Keeping living arrangements stable is not only helpful, it can sometimes prevent symptoms from worsening.

But what if there’s there’s no other choice?

The time may come when you have little alternative but to move a loved one with dementia. This can also happen more than once. While it’s a tough decision, caregivers need to overcome the unearned guilt that they so often live with every time they make a choice that affects their loved one. In addition, there are some steps that you can take to help the move go more smoothly.

  • Provide choices when possible. The choice may be as limited as “do you want to move today or tomorrow?” -- but you’re still giving the person a choice.

  • Stay positive and develop a positive attitude. Tell others who interact with your loved one that they must do the same. Feelings of guilt or pessimism can easily be be picked up by the person with the disease, so radiate confidence. Talk about the fun things you will do with your loved one’s room, such as the new activities and how much safer it will be.

  • Offer reassurance. Let your loved one know that you are with them all the way, even when you’re not there. The person may feel abandoned, fearful and the unable to understand what is happening, so the comfort of your familiar presence when needed can be comforting. Try and maintain a loving but confident front at all times. You can cry alone later.

  • Take into account the person’s stage of dementia: Those in early stages can help with planning and feel comforted by taking part in the decision making process. But those in later stages will only become confused by too much talk, so it’s often better to avoid sharing too much. When the time comes, just do it with love.

  • Give guidance. If you are moving your loved one to a facility, ask the social worker for guidance. And if you are moving your loved one into your home, you can seek advice from the Alzheimer’s Association or your local Alzheimer’s organization.

Moving loved ones with any type of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s, should be avoided as much as possible. However, relocation is often necessary. So when the time comes, follow these tips and seek help from professionals in the field. Local resources can be found on Just click the button for resources near you.

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Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver having spent over two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a longtime newspaper columnist and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” as well as a contributor to several additional books on caregiving and dementia. Her websites can be accessed at Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder_ and on Facebook Minding Our Elders_.