How can I keep my mother from constantly trying to escape Memory Care?

2 answers | Last updated: Sep 10, 2016
Detadman asked...

Hi, I'm new here and haven't seen any other questions quite like this. In a nutshell, my Mother has been put in a Memory Care facility for her own safety, but she's constantly calling family members and outside companies trying to get someone to take her home. My sister and I are her Guardians because Adult Protective Services started guardianship proceedings against her and asked if we would take the responsibility. We found her one of the best memory care facilities around (she can afford it) and moved her there a couple weeks ago. She is unable to live at home because she keeps dropping lit cigarettes on the floor, is an alcoholic and has first stage dementia.

Now that she's in her new home, we were hoping for a bit of peace. But things have gotten worse! While she is definitely somewhere safe, it seems like her every moment is spent plotting a way to get out. It's not as if she went out much when she was still living at home. In fact, she rarely left the house. She had services bringing her meals, as well as people shopping for her, bringing her all the booze she could afford. So I suspect these efforts to get out have to do with the fact that she can no longer smoke (she's had the habit for over 50 years) and she's not allowed to drink alcohol anymore.

Anyway, my sister and I are getting more stressed than we ever were. I'm sure some of it has to do with the guilt of having to put her there. (Neither of us has a house or lifestyle where in-home care is a possibility.) Guilt I can deal with. But will my mother, in her dementia state, ever come to terms with the fact that this is now her home? And that she can't have the freedom that she used to have?

Expert Answers

Ladislav Volicer, M.D., Ph.D., is recognized as an international expert on advanced dementia care. He is a courtesy full professor at the School of Aging Studies, University of South Florida, Tampa, and visiting professor at the Third Medical Faculty, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic. Twenty-five years ago, he established one of the first dementia special care units.

If the Memory Care facility is really good, it should provide a continuous activity program for its residents. That would distract your mother and decrease her efforts to leave. As dementia progresses, she will start considering the facility as her home and will become more satisfied.

Community Answers

From your description placement in a secured memory unit is in your mother’s best interest. She requires 24/7 supervision for safety. It may take months for your mother to adjust to her new environment. Also, she is dealing with withdrawal from two powerful addictions which will add to her agitation and desire to leave. Hopefully she is being provided with medical assistance in dealing with her withdrawal. The desire to leave or “leaving behavior” is very common at certain stages of some dementias and will eventually pass. Hopefully you can work with the facility to provide environmental and activity solutions to her agitation as opposed to use of drugs for behavioral management. Such drugs may significantly impair her ability to think and function. A daily routine and purposeful activity mimicking her early adulthood or other beloved activities are often very helpful. Also, a daily walk outside the locked unit in the afternoon helps release some of the drive to leave. Best wishes in this difficult journey.