Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Eldercare Q-A: Mom moved to assisted living, but she's more confused than ever!

A common eldercare situation: dementia causes your aging parent to move to assisted living. Upon the move, he or she is more confused than ever. What's up?  Assisted living offers just what the doctor ordered: structure, supportive staff, meals and personal care. But for awhile, things are topsy-turvey.

Why the increased confusion? Throughout his or her life, your aging parent successfully navigated through change. He or she adapted to new stressful situations, be it college, a first apartment, or a new workplace. During the first few days, things were forgotten--the umbrella, briefcase, or coffee mug. But soon, the short-term memory clicked in, relaying the information about the new surroundings to the long-term memory.

Your parent's transition to assisted living is drastically different. Now, with dementia, the short-term memory is diminished. Before moving to assisted living,  your parent kept things barely afloat by relying on the long-term memory. He or she knew the location of the living room and the kitchen and how to find the bathroom from the bedroom at night.

In assisted living, his or her new home, everything is upside down.  Where's the dining room?  How is the laundry done? Confusion, confusion at every turn.  How do you, your parent, and the staff handle this successfully?

Assisted living staff in Washington State, and throughout the country, are required to take specialized training in dementia. They know that a new resident will need extra time and attention, which may include reminders about wake-up time, escorts to meals, invitations to activities, etc. You can help, too, by setting up the room ahead of time with special furnishings and belongings.  During the first few weeks, make an effort to eat some meals with your parent in the dining room.

The good thing is that generally, the confusion will improve after a few weeks. The new home will seem more like home, and your parent will seem more like himself or herself.

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