How do we explain to my mom, who has Alzheimer's, that she cannot bring all of her household items when moving in with my brother?

5 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
Michelle in winston-salem, nc asked...

My mother has mild Alzheimers and has agreed to move in with my brother. She has her own room and her own bathroom. Other than her personal items that she can house in her own room and bathroom, she is insisting on bring several other items with her home such as dishes, furniture, curtains, etc. to go in other areas of his house. How do you suggest we apporach her that these additional items are not necessary to bring because his house is already furnished and equipped. She has made several comments like, I'm not throwing away my things, or the curtains in the kitchen need to be changed or what do you expect for me to do with my things that I have worked hard for. And when she make changes or bring items in, she never consults with my brother. There is really no room for her household things. There's only space her personal items for her room. I'm afraid she will get upset and decide she wants to go back home, so how do you suggest we handle it? I want her to understand that we want her in his house so we all can care for her but too, she can't bring along unnecessary items? Not only that there's no extra space but most of her household items are old and outdated. What should we do?

Expert Answers

Beth Spencer is a social worker in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with more than 25 years of experience with families who have a member with dementia. She is coauthor of Understanding Difficult Behaviors and Moving a Relative with Memory Loss: A Family Caregiver's Guide. Previously, she directed Silver Club, early-stage and adult day programs serving individuals with Alzheimer's disease and related illnesses.

First, you need to look at this from your mother's point of view. Most of us would never choose to move in with family when we have been independent, even if it is for our own good. Many people, as they grow older, worry that all the things they have worked hard for will be thrown away or devalued by their children. Your mother may feel that she agreed to give up her home (probably not her first choice) and now her kids want her to give away all her possessions too. While this is not strictly accurate that may be how it feels to her.  

Is there some compromise possible? What about finding a storage locker or someplace where some boxes of things can be stored? Help her choose the things she is most attached to and tell her that they will be kept. Are there a few things that could be used in the rest of the house, even if they are not needed?  

One thing to keep in mind is that people with dementia do not always have the ability to be logical about things. You and your brother may be trying to reason with her in ways that she can't really comprehend or retain. If your primary goal is to have her live in his house, then you have to bend a little here and there probably. She is trying hard to retain some control of her life. She may very well decide it is not worth it, if she feels that she is losing all control.  

It can be very difficult to have someone with Alzheimer's living with a family, even in their own quarters. If there are problems already, you and your brother may need to have a backup plan.  

Community Answers

Everdebz answered...
It's tough. You could measure the square footage in new rooms and explain that that's her amount (graciously provided). Try to reduce your emotional display and be matter-of-fact, so that she can too. Try boxing things with her and keep some boxes (not known to her) to put into storage somewhere else so she can't get at it, remember it, etc. Questions keep the control partly in her court, for example, "Do you want this set of sheets, or this one?" "This has always been a favorite and it's newer, isn't that nice?" Best wishes. Debbie

Galowa answered...

Hi Michelle,

It would be helpful to know what the current status of her house is. Has it been sold? Rented? Or was she a renter to begin with?

My father died five years ago. It was immediately apparent my mother had early stage Alzheimer's and could no longer live alone in her home of 56 years.

I stayed in her home with her for four months after the funeral, increasingly stressing she'd soon need to begin making difficult changes. She, of course, wanted to stay "home," while I suggested "moving" as a "POSSIBILITY" she "might consider".

She finally agreed to "consider" it, and "we" decided the best approach was to start with a TRIAL visitation of SIX MONTHS at my brother's house.

It was to be more like a vacation with family than a move, but to prepare for this long-term absence from her house, we boxed up and stored most of her valuables. As we did this we talked about how wonderful her treasures were, and to whom she might one day wish to entrust each one. We made a list of all the items (all of which I described in glowing detail for the "list" making notes next to each as to possible recipients - with a "?" adjacent to each recipient's name - so as we worked, my mother would not feel like this was "the end.")

Then we selected and packed a few of her most cherished personal mementos to take with, so she would not be homesick - wedding album, framed photos, decorative wall items, a few pieces of bed linen embroidered by her mother... she agreed to all of this happily and without question. We left the house furnished (sparsely and simply) for occasional visits home, and we left my mother's treasures securely boxed and stored in a locked storage room in the basement.

After a few months my mother forgot about everything we had boxed away (but I still had "the list" for future use.) The VISIT APPROACH turned out to be a stroke of genius, because it did not work out with my brother and his wife as caretakers. So, after the six months ended, the VISIT made a graceful exit possible. Now my mother lives with me and my family.

The main house is still rented to a distant cousin who is happy to let us occupy as much of the house as we need anytime we visit (3 times so far.) The house also has a tiny garden apartment which is home to a caretaker.

So my mom still considers herself to "live" at home. Her treasures are SAFE, her history and memories are SAFE... and all is well with the world.

Good luck!

Galowa answered...


One more thing - Something BETH SPENCER, the responding expert, said above...

"It can be very difficult to have someone with Alzheimer's living with a family, even in their own quarters. If there are problems already, you and your brother may need to have a backup plan."

This is VERY true, and my experience with my mother "visiting" at my brother's house proved this. Since then, my mother has done extremely well at MY house partly because SHE STILL THINKS OF HERSELF as VISITING! This leads her to behave like a GUEST. So she is on her BEST BEHAVIOUR at all times.

In light of this, something else occurs to me. Even WITHOUT Alzheimer's in the mix, NO home can be large enough to hold TWO MASTERS or MISTRESSES. Let your mother be the "honored guest," and it will help to keep her acting like one. The more "at home" your mother feels, the more likely she is to become TERRITORIAL about the entire house. This in turn will lead to increased AGGRESSION and troublesome behaviour.

If you can, box and store her belongings, LIMIT the items she can take there, and REMEMBER that more personal items WILL cause your mother to FEEL more CONFIDENT and DOMINANT in your brother's house, So tell her she needs to settle in first, and her things can be brought into the home little by little.

When my own mother complains and says "I'm supposed to be a member of this family, too." I always reply, Yes, Mom, you ARE a member of this family, AND you are our MOST HONORED guest..."

Transforms her - instantly!

Good luck.

Brigitte answered...

This mother who is in the mild dementia stage is down the track of being inconsiderately pushy, argumentive and selfish. This is shown by being prepared to impose even newer items on her son's wife and insistant declaration over her expectations to impose her wants.

You ought all be getting her into residential care. A facility that caters for both her current lower needs and later high needs,

Despite any expressed reluctance, the early dementia stage is the best to settle in and adjust to routines while making the most of activities and engaging with other residents as well as establishing trusting relationships with carers.

After initially settling, such thrive and have a fraction of the problems possible in the later dementia stages.
No family or spousal attempts at caring for someone with dementia are able to match the needs of those with dementia over time in providing security, routines and adequate monotoring and calm care of good residences.

Placement for when the family decides much later it can't cope, is cruel. It becomes a frightening process for the confused person, experiencing abandonment to who knows what.

Ideally the reidential facility is close to the family with sustained visits and outings while responsive.

While she may wine over her possesions she would accept the limit on what can be taken to a facility. Simply because it's a fact for everyone entering. If hers and other family member's situation financially doesn't allow for accessing residential care, you need to deal with her firmly. Just tell her the facts: You need support and care. We are accepting that it needs to be dealt with and are ready to do it. .We can't and won't indulge your taking anything more than what we said goes in your room. We won't change anything else about or home except by what we choose. We can't have you take anything more, since it can't fit in anywhere as the house is now. And thats how we want it to stay. We won't get exhausted or waste time in talking about any of this anymore. Topic over. Then ask her about something totally unrelated.

Better still if you can, offer her having a small pet as a personal companion if possible. If she's the type to take a pet offer as buying her off like a child, then say it this way," A new pet would be nice, but we weren't sure with us being busy if it would feel secure enough, but could with you here. Would you like to choose a pet and be it's main friend?"

A lot of mental energy and positive excitement can be focused on selecting the breed, actual pet and things to set up her new baby to arrive when she arrives to stay.

It can be a great focus of her attention rather than frustrations over forced changes. Another family member ought to share the interest to keep her switched to bonding and not be overwhelmed by its care.Though to help the pet bond more to her, have her doing the most rewarding things.

If she would go for the pet and you can have it, your situation has some hope..