Juliet Holt Klinger, MA, Expert on Dementia Care

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16 April 2019

Last week, I finally gave in and watched an episode of Netflix’s new hit show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.  I wanted to see what everyone was talking about.

With her simple organization strategy, the KonMari Method™, Kondo encourages tidying up and de-cluttering your home by category (like clothing, books, papers)—not room by room—and to keep only the things that speak to your heart and spark joy.

Finding comfort in the familiar

At first glance, it may not seem like Kondo’s philosophy of tidying up is relevant to planning a move to a memory care community. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized her advice to surround yourself with things that bring joy really resonates as great guidance for people living with dementia and their families.

Can it be that simple? Surround yourself with things that spark joy. Of course, there are many things to consider when preparing for a transition to a memory care community, but what to bring and sometimes what not to bring are important parts of that move.

For people living with dementia, familiar things spark joy.

As you and your loved one sort through a lifetime of belongings, choosing items that bring your loved one joy can be a North Star by which to navigate among tough choices about what to bring and what to let go.

Tips to help with the transition to a memory care community

Keep in mind that this is not the time to redecorate. You want to create a comfortable and familiar space in the new setting. 

We tell family members there are many things we can do together – you, as their family, and we, as their new care partners – to make a new resident feel at home. The more this new space looks, feels, smells and sounds like home to your family member, the better they will adjust to their new surroundings. Making this new space similar to the old space is comforting.

Here are a few tips on what to bring:

  1. Plan to set up your new space so it’s familiar. Set up the new apartment as close to the layout at home as possible. For example, put the nightstand on the same side of the bed and decorate the room with familiar items. This helps those living with dementia manage daily tasks with more ease.
     
  2. Keep the room simple. Allow for plenty of space for clear, wide walking paths. Bring a favorite pillow, blanket and chair, but skip bulky pieces of furniture like large dressers. ???????
     
  3. Include favorite personal items. Again, choose items that bring your family member joy. Maybe it’s an art piece, a souvenir from a favorite trip, or family photographs.  Photos are a great way to help residents connect with their new environment, their family and friends. We also strongly encourage families to bring music equipment like a CD player, radio or iPod preloaded with favorite music selections.
     
  4. Some items will need to be left behind. You should avoid anything breakable or irreplaceable like family heirlooms or expensive jewelry. And, in keeping with another tip from Marie Kondo, use what you already own. Avoid purchasing too many new items until you get settled in and see what your family member may still need.
     
  5. Ask about your community’s policy on medications and medical equipment. Most of the time, medications, even over-the-counter supplements, need to be ordered by the physician, approved and managed by the health and wellness director.

Ultimately, it’s about creating a space where residents feel at home. When we train our Clare Bridge associates, we often ask them, “What does the word ‘home’ mean to you?” The answers aren’t usually about a specific location. Instead, home is a feeling or a connection to favorite things.  We remind them that the same is true for our residents. Home is about their favorite keepsakes, enjoying their favorite foods, in the company of people who know them well and with a sense that are being heard.  It’s where they have a voice.

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