Stay with familiar when transitioning parents to assisted living

Dear Gail: Recently my Mom took a couple bad falls and is showing signs of dementia. I feel she can no longer be home alone. My position requires a lot of traveling, and having her with me would not be the right decision now. I decided that an assisted-living community would be best as she would be around people 24/7. What suggestions can you give me that will make this transition as smooth as possible in setting up her new home? Thank you. — Laraine

Dear Laraine: I do understand your situation as I was there with my mother five years ago. Start by understanding that the move represents a significant loss for her. Change is difficult for most of us and tends to get even more difficult as we age, especially if forced to make a dramatic change.

Not only does she have to adjust to leaving her home, it’s upsetting that her health necessitates this move. She’s leaving behind a good deal of her past.

Making it as close to her home is key in helping with the transition. Now is not the time to start buying a lot of new things. Even if she’s open to it, believe me, once she’s moved in and not surrounded by her things, she may have a more difficult time in adjusting. I saw this many times when new residents moved in.

Mom always liked to sit in her kitchen and look out the front window, so when I set up her room, I switched the standard way the rooms were arranged. The two rooms were separated by the bath, so instead of entering her room and being in her living room, I placed her bedroom by the door and her sofa and nook table by the window.

It let her watch what was going on, and she felt she was part of the daily comings and goings of those in her community, as well as connecting her to the outdoors. This gives seniors a more positive emotional state, more awareness and sense of belonging.

My mother always liked to share how she set her room up different than the others. It was cute to hear. So it’s important to incorporate daily routines. It will help her maintain a sense of order and control in her life.

Of course, all of your mother’s furniture is probably not going to fit. She will want to bring everything. Seniors in the situation need to feel they have control over the decisions you’re making, even if you are making them for her.

Gently explain the whys and why not’s. It’s important you pay close attention to the furniture arrangement. Will she have a clear path in and out?

Many of my mother’s friends had so much packed into their rooms they could barely get between the furniture. When things are too close, seniors can lose their balance when trying to get around. And unfortunately, it happened more than once.

With my mother, I knew we couldn’t bring her china hutch but that a new corner curio would fit. One of her concerns was what she was going to do with her mother’s crystal.

Because her space was limited, I told her I would store those we couldn’t fit and switch them out every couple of months, which eased her concerns. It’s best to keep those things she has the most difficult time of letting go as you will never know when she will want them back.

She had a queen bed in her house, and I really felt she should scale down to a full. We went out shopping a couple times, and it just got her agitated. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t bring her bed and noted that she just bought a new comfortable one, so I just made it work.

Once the furniture was decided, the next important thing was memory points. We already had her sentimental accessories in the curio cabinet, but there was still her artwork. Again she wanted to bring everything, including cuckoo clocks that had been stored in her closet. But we were able to pare down to her favorite pieces.

I made a collage of important family photos, such as her wedding photo and one of me and my brothers as kids. I placed them where they were most visible. When she walked by, she would comment about the times we had. It brought back happy memories.

As we age, we all need more light to see. So turn on all the lights in her room and add more wherever you have dark areas and increase the wattage of your bulbs. The light switch into each room must be connected to a light that goes on without having to walk through the room to turn it on.

Bring in textures. We all love to touch different textures; it’s a strong sensory influence as we age. It helps those with fading vision and dementia to recognize items and bring back memories.

When I was a kid, I had a dotted chenille bedspread. To this day, when I see one, I have to touch it as it always brings me back to that time.

Laraine, there are so many things to think of right now. I guess one of the most important things I can share is that she needs to be part of the decisions and that you need to make it work the best you can with what’s most important to her.

If she loves the ugly green chair and you’re thinking this is the perfect time to get rid of it, please don’t. You can always buy her something new once she settles in.

It’s a time for utmost patience, which at times will be very hard. But know you are doing the absolute best for her. I know I did for my mom.

Gail Mayhugh, owner of GMJ Interiors, is a professional interior designer and author of a book on the subject. Questions may be sent by email to Or, mail to 7380 S. Eastern Ave., No. 124-272, Las Vegas, NV 89123. Her web address is

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