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Tips For Downsizing Your Dementia Mom

Tips and ideas for how to pare things down when you are helping your Mom move in with you or to a nursing home!

How To Help Your Dementia Mom Downsize

It’s not an easy admission to make, but as your mom is getting older, she may not be safe living in her home alone.  Whether it’s because of dementia or age or injuries, getting her into a smaller, more manageable home, into assisted living or even a nursing care facility may just be necessary.  

That said, most Mom's will fight having to leave their homes… sigh.  That makes it super hard on her AND you. With the added twist that she may forget that she agreed to move in with you or to home.

Even if you can get her agreement without argument, downsizing her possessions will be absolutely necessary and that will undoubtedly get argument… especially if she has been in the same home for decades.

So how can you help her downsize for the move?  Here are some tips to make it a little easier!

Plan Early!

First, don’t try and do it a week before the move.  Giving time to sort through lots of things that bring up tons of memories will require time and patience.  

Enlist the help of friends and family and even make a celebration of going through a room at a time and talking about the family stories and memories.  Reliving them will be fun for everyone, and if mom has dementia, will be a great reminder for her.

If the pushback starts to lead to agitation, be prepared to agree to store it for them instead of giving it away.  Get a bunch of plastic totes, add each item and be sure to label the box with what is in it.  Stack them carefully in your attic or garage or rent a storage unit.  

This will give them some comfort knowing their precious items that can’t be taken with are still close by. This works in the moment even if your Mom won't remember later AND if she remembers something later you can bring it back with no problem!

Get Her Buy In

Be sure they are included in the discussion about what to do with their things.  Let them help with the decision about what should be thrown away, what should be donated, who should get some items or what can be sold.

The old adage that elderly adults can become like children isn’t far from the truth.  And in this vein, distraction can be a great tool.  As you would with a 3- or 4-year-old, appearing to let your mom “keep” things that make her very anxious about parting with instead of arguing about it is the better part of valor.  

Then you can have those items “disappear” later when she is out of sight.

She Will Still Need Some “Stuff”

Whether or not your Mom is moving in with you or to a home, you will want to make sure she things around her that are comforting and recognizable as “hers”.

Remember too that if mom is moving to assisted living, meaning her own apartment in an assisted living community, she will need some furniture.  

Keep what will fit into the new space, especially if it is something she loves.  She will also be able to keep photographs of family and friends, photo albums, favorite books, her favorite craft or pastime.  

Familiar is good, so bring her familiar bedding, or mugs for coffee or tea.  If she’s moving to a nursing facility, the familiar blanket may be a good idea, as well as the photos and some books, but the rest may be too much, so check with the facility about their rules and recommendations about personal belongings.

One note especially for dementia Moms. At a conference one of the speakers said to watch out for putting too many photos around (and this is super sad)… if she doesn't remember any of the people in the photos, she could feel like strangers are always watching her from the pictures. Don't forget that sometimes old friends and family like her Mom or siblings might be recognizable if the pictures are from when she was young.

Don't Forget Smells!

One sense that is often overlooked when moving your Mom is smell. If she has some favorite candles or always uses a certain type of cleaner, try to make sure those smells are in the new home.

Also, don't immediately wash every item of clothing or bedding when moving her in. If everything smells strange it can be disconcerting… especially in a totally new environment.

Thinks Seasonally If You Have Room

Be sure to offer to keep some of their more seasonal stuff in storage so you can retrieve it for them when they need it.  You may want to go through and downsize things like Christmas ornaments or other seasonal decorations but keeping the most favorite will mean that treasured memories of holidays will still be within her grasp.

The best advice is to be patient and loving during the downsizing and transition to the new place.  Leaving the familiar behind is scary, especially for those with dementia.