Mom is in her 80s with mid-stage Alzheimer’s dementia. Dad, also an octogenarian, is doing a great job of caring for her but now he’s using a walker to keep himself out of trouble. She can be a very busy woman, depending on the day, and the writing is on the wall.

Last year some work needed to be done to the house and rather than subject Mom to the noise and confusion of workers and construction going on in and out of the house, they decided to relocate for the next few weeks at their daughter’s home. It was only a few miles away and they had plenty of room. Unfortunately, although Mom had been there before, she never really adjusted to the change and the temporary transition did not go well. And that brings us to today.

Once again this family finds that more work needs to be done and they have to leave their home, this time for a longer period. So the question is, where do they go? Experience has already taught them that the nearby daughter’s house isn’t the answer. Mom hadn’t been back there since the last visit a year ago. Their solution? Let’s try the other daughter’s house … 800 miles away.

Individuals with Alzheimer’s are just that, individuals. It’s not a mistake when I refer to Alzheimer’s disease as the “snowflake” of illnesses. Although there are many similarities among sufferers, the most obvious being their short term memory loss, their behavior and reactions to situations and circumstances vary a great deal.

My point is that Mom may, for some unknown reason, be just fine at the other daughter’s house. Then again, probably not. Asking her to take an 800-mile car ride is asking a great deal of this woman  considering where she is in the disease. Not knowing where she is, having to go into restaurants and toilets along the way and sleeping in a strange room with strange noises can all contribute to a very long journey for everyone.

I know this family has the means to afford a higher level of care and one of my recommendations was to take this opportunity to be proactive and start exploring other living options, if, down the road, it becomes necessary. Many of these communities (note I’m not using the word facilities) offer respite or short-term stays or “Try Us You’ll Love Us” programs. Rather than having to commit to moving them there lock, stock and barrel you’re able to move them in on a short-term basis to a fully furnished and beautifully appointed suite and see how things work out.

One of the communities I managed for years did this and we required at least a minimum 30-day stay. This gives the resident a real chance to join the community, make friends with residents and staff and enjoy all that the community has to offer. If you tried doing this over a long weekend, they’d never unpack and would simply wait until they could leave. My experience has taught me that the majority of residents are looking to pick out a permanent suite within the first two weeks, usually on the same floor as their new friends, if possible. On the other hand, you may learn firsthand that, for whatever reason,  this is not the best place, so you’ll be well informed and ready to explore other communities.

Many times, I’m asked about the best approach to take when the transition day arrives. That’s when effective therapeutic fibbing comes in. In the case of this family, they could say that the house needs work, again, and it’s only a temporary change until things  are repaired. One  family had a loved one visit for the holidays and realized that she could not go back to New Jersey and be alone. The answer was telling her that a pipe had burst at her apartment and that the place was unlivable. To assisted living she went and then to memory care. By the way, whatever fib you come up with, make sure everyone is in on it.

I’m happy to report that, although they had some challenges, Mom handled this temporary transition surprisingly well. Maybe she liked this daughter better or this daughter understood what was going on and dealt with things accordingly. Regardless, this family, like all others, should be looking down the road so they’re ready when things change.

Questions? Email me at repe@careforcaregivers.org. Join the Journey.

Robert E.P. Elmer III, of Stonington, is a senior care adviser and Alzheimer's care specialist. His website is www.careforcaregivers.org.

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