How to Downsize with Alzheimer’s in the Mix
Some seniors are ready to let go of all but a few material possessions, but for others, the idea of parting with even seemingly insignificant objects can cause great anxiety and sadness – and that doesn’t even include those who may be grappling with dementia or depression.
We have said it before, and you will likely hear us say it many more times: downsizing is taxing on the body, mind and spirit. More than just the physical aspects of sorting, donating, discarding and packing, downsizing takes an emotional toll on everyone involved in the process.
The emotional stress of downsizing can be triggered by memories of the items you are sorting, attachment to a home where you may have raised a family and made many memories, and the echoes in the back of your mind whispering that change can be scary, even if you are otherwise looking forward to the next stage in your life.
All the emotions associated with the downsizing process can be complicated further if one of the seniors involved is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Persons with Alzheimer’s disease may already feel anxious or agitated, which can worsen if they are taken from a familiar environment and placed in a new one. So, when downsizing in this kind of situation, there are certain tips and tools that can make the transition smoother for not only the person with Alzheimer’s, but also for others who are involved in the process.
Tip #1 – Take it Slow and Communicate Often
Sometimes downsizing needs to be a rushed process. Maybe one spouse is ill or has become unexpectedly disabled and the current living situation no longer is conducive to that person living a healthy and happy life. But when downsizing a person with Alzheimer’s, it is in everyone’s best interest to take the entire process as slowly as possible.
Just because a person has Alzheimer’s doesn’t mean they can’t have the process explained to them, so be prepared to discuss with your loved one why the decision to downsize has been made, as well as what they can expect every step of the way. Be prepared to explain the steps over and over again; while this may be frustrating for you, it is critical for the person with Alzheimer’s to be reminded of things in a calm and consistent fashion.
Be sure to make the person part of the process, communicating often and helping them to feel as if they are still in control of the situation. So much about living with Alzheimer’s can make the person feel like they have lost control of everything in their lives, which can lead to frustration, anxiety and even depression. Downsizing should never be something that is happening to them, but with them.
Tip #2 – Sorting, Discarding, Donating
It is never easy to part with our belongings, especially ones that are associated with fond memories of relationships with friends and family. While it’s normal to feel a strong attachment to our things, individuals with Alzheimer’s tend to have a more trying time parting with items with which they feel connected. Convincing someone with Alzheimer’s that they need to part with an item, when they are determined to keep it, can be a frustrating experience for all involved. It can cause the person with Alzheimer’s to experience increased levels of anxiety and stress, which will further impair their cognitive functioning.
If there are items that the person rarely uses, but has them in various locations throughout their current home, it may be best for a small team of downsizing helpers to go into the home ahead of the planned downsizing and removing those items from the environment. Many people with Alzheimer’s do not miss items they do not frequently use, so removing them from the environment before the person has an opportunity to obsess over their worth may be the best approach for everyone.
This is one area where those assisting with the downsizing process must be prepared to lose the battle. If the thought of donating or discarding a particular item is causing undue stress to the person with Alzheimer’s, be prepared to place that item in storage rather than discarding or donating it.
Purchase a number of sturdy, plastic bins to store these kinds of items, and then store them – either in your home or a storage rental facility – in an area that is near to where you are downsizing. Simply knowing their items are nearby and safe often is enough for the person with Alzheimer’s.
Tip #3 – Make a Memory Album
This is something that we recommend to any senior or boomer who is downsizing, especially of possessions they plan to discard or donate. Taking photos or video of the items, and then making a special memory album, is a great way to continue to embrace the meaning and value of these items, without physically taking the items with you from one location to another.
Involving the person with Alzheimer’s in this process can be a great distraction from the task at hand, keeping them calm and focused while the rest of the downsizing team does its job.
Tip #4 – Something Old, Something New
When transitioning the person with Alzheimer’s to their new living environment, it is best to do most of the unpacking prior to the individual moving in. Just as the packing up process can be anxiety and aggression-inducing for someone with Alzheimer’s, unpacking in a new and unfamiliar space can have a similar effect.
Try to place a few precious mementos from the old residence in their new living quarters to help calm and reassure the person during the moving-in stage. Seeing something familiar in their new surroundings can help the person with Alzheimer’s form a connection to their new space. Place photos of their loved ones in a place that is visible from their bed, so the photos are the last thing they see at night before going to sleep, and the first thing they see when waking up each morning. How to
Even if all of these tips are followed, it is still possible that the person with Alzheimer’s may have a difficult time adjusting. Be sure to consult their healthcare provider before the process begins, as well as afterwards, especially if the individual experiences increased episodes of anxiety, aggression or depression.
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