Dementia Whisperer: Transitional Trauma for Those with Dementia

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What if you tucked yourself snuggly into your bed at night, only to be startled awake when you realize that you have woken up in a strange bed in an unfamiliar room?  What would you do?   Would you be scared, wondering how this happened? Perhaps even angry and anxious?  This sudden shock may cause you to run through a host of emotions.   This can be how many seniors with dementia feel when they move to a memory care community.  They may be confused and unable to process clearly what has happened to them.

When your parent is no longer safe living with dementia in their home, your family may need to seek professional help and move them to a memory care community.  A professional long-term care option is equipped to meet their unique needs with 24/7 care staff who will ensure your parent is safe and well cared for.   But this move can cause distress in someone with dementia, which is called “transitional trauma.”

Transitional trauma is one of the unfortunate “side effects” of getting your parent professional care.   It can last for a few hours, days, longer, or not at all, when they move into a memory care community.  How or if they experience transitional trauma is individual.  And how long it might last is on a case-by-case basis. Transitional trauma is part of the process that adult children should be aware may occur and is normal.

According to Dementia Whisperer, Laura Wayman, by placing your parent in a home with professional help, you will ensure that your parent is safe and secure. By moving them to an assisted living community, they will receive the appropriate care they need—from nutrition and hygiene to making sure they do not wander from home or leave the oven on after use.  Your parent will need to be cared for and loved through this sometimes tricky transition process.  Understand this is a common occurrence that will change over time on their schedule.

Tips to Ease Transitional Trauma

  • Don’t Share Too Early. You may want to share with them that they are moving when it gets close to the date of their move.   Giving them a month or more in advance may cause undue anxiety or can be too difficult for them to properly  You know your parent best, but if you try to build up excitement for the move with a long lead time, this can backfire.
  • A Little Fib May Help. Depending on the progression of their memory loss and confusion level, you may want to try a little fib to ease the transition.  You may want to tell them that they are staying for a short time at a hotel. And as they spend more time in their “new hotel,” they will become more comfortable.
  • Bring Familiar Comforts from Home. Surrounding your parent with familiar items like a much-loved chair and family photos or comforts like their favorite blankets and well-worn teacups can help a new apartment feel like home immediately.
  • Take Care of Yourself. During the best of times, a move can be stressful.  But if you are caring for your parent and managing their move, this can place a lot of stress on a caregiver.  Treat yourself to alone time, a manicure, or a walk in the fresh air.  Try to get extra sleep and eat well to keep up your energy level for the move. Ask for help sorting through your parent’s items or hire assistance to ease your burden.
  • It Will Take Time. Change is hard, and the transition can take time.  But over the course of a few days or weeks, your parent will bond with the staff, make new friends, and settle into a new routine.   Be patient and gentle with your parent and to yourself.

To learn more about what a move to assisted living may look like, contact the Aegis Living community near you and let our experts guide you through the process.

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