How does moving affect dementia?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mom has dementia and we have been moving her from house to house so that her four children can share the care of Mom. She is moved 10 or more times a year, sometimes moving out of state. My question is "What does this do to her mental condition?"

Expert Answer

Deborah Cooke is a gerontologist specializing in dementia, delirium, caregiving, and senior fitness. She is a certified dementia care provider and specialist through the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. Cooke currently manages several multidisciplinary programs to enhance well-being for hospitalized seniors and other vulnerable patients at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. She also serves on the board of NewYork-Presbyterian's Patient and Family Education Advisory Committee. She has 18 years of experience working with the aging and caregiver communities.

It is admirable of you and your family to share the caregiving of your mother as well as her love. However, I do not recommend moving her from place to place. For persons with dementia, stability and routine are very important, especially as the disease progresses. So, moving does effect dementia.

Moving is very difficult for everyone. Let's look at it from your mother's point of view. First, when she was healthy, did she frequently move or vacation? It's easy to get confused with regular moves. As soon as she is used to one place, she has to move. Let's use the bathroom as an example. At your house, the bathroom is next to her room. But at your brother's house, it's the utility closet next to her room. She could easily get confused and end up in the utility closet to use the bathroom or get some water. What could happen in that situation? She may use the cleaning bucket as a toilet, and the spic and span as a beverage. I may be exaggerating slightly, but something like this is not completely out of reason.

For each family, it may be difficult to adjust to your mom's needs and condition. As I'm sure you know, caregiving changes the entire family, not just one member.

As I mentioned, stability and routine are imperative for dementia persons. I encourage you to find a situation that is good for your mother and your family. I know it's difficult for the caregiving to fall on one person. Maybe you can consider an alternative living situation (be it in a family home, or a facility--depending on her current needs) and have her close to as many family members as possible. Compromise will be necessary to create a stable living situation, but is not always easy.

At the end of the day, how would you feel moving so much. Personally, I'm overwhelmed just thinking about it. I can hardly handle being away from home for more than 2 weeks (even if on vacation).

I hope this helps and I wish you peace as you come to a single solution.

Deborah Cooke