A Bad Move-In

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“She isn’t normally like this,” her son assured me. “I promise, she doesn’t always act this way! She’s actually very sweet and calm, usually,” he sighed.

“I believe you,” I said, trying to reassure him.

I did believe him. The truth is, moving a person with dementia into a care community is hard. The first day almost never goes well.

Families are always anxious and often upset when their loved ones move into long-term care. That first day, those first hours, especially, are very hard on everyone. I do my best to reassure families about that, because I often find them apologizing for their loved one. 

I’ve seen a lot of first days. I’ve seen a lot of move-ins. Some people with dementia adjust to the new care community within a matter of hours. (It’s rare, but it does happen.) For others, it can take two weeks. Most people are somewhere in the middle–I would say, on average, it takes most people with dementia 3 days to adjust to a new place.

I once had a resident who only spoke Spanish. (I speak some Spanish, but I’m nowhere near fluent.) She screamed at me and my staff in Spanish for hours on end. She threw a huge Bible at us.

I had another resident try to climb a fence. She dug her nails into my skin when I tried to help her down.

But those are the really, really tough move-ins. For the most part, it’s never that bad. I even have some residents who are all smiles the second they see their new bedroom.

To families moving their loved ones into long-term care I say this: expect some drama, hope for the best, and let the staff help you. Don’t try to do it all on your own. And don’t apologize.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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