Mom recently moved to a nursing home. Is it too early to give her possessions to the family?


Q: I recently placed my mother, who has Alzheimer’s, in a nursing home. I would like to give her possessions to family members. Is it too soon?

A: If you feel strongly that she is never going to come back home, then no, it is not too soon.

I've never understood why we wait until someone has passed away to give their "treasures" to members of the family. Giving your mother's belongings to others in the family is a kind and loving gesture. You will be representing your mother and carrying out her wishes by thoughtfully deciding who should receive some of her things.

If your mother previously determined who should receive certain items, then your task is much easier. If not, sit quietly and take your time to make these decisions. I'm sure your family members will appreciate having some of her things while she is still living. If she has a close friend or friends, sometimes a gift of a small memento is a way of keeping her alive with her friends.

With your mother's condition, she might not be aware of what you are doing, but your family and her friends, will feel a deeper connection to her while she is still living – which is a wonderful gift.

As you go through this process, take some time for yourself. Walk down memory lane and remember her when she was a vital, young woman. It will help you as you journey through this process.

Cindy Laverty is a Caregiver Coach and Founder of The Care Company, an online support website for family caregivers. Through programs, coaching and products, Cindy is dedicated to empowering family caregivers.

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My mother's oldest sister began sorting and divesting herself of belongings starting in her 80s. I know some people place stickers on possessions, saying who should have each item. Aunt E did one better ... she simply gave the items away. When she no longer drove, she gave away her car. Once when I visited her there was an oilcloth on the table that had always had a lace cloth, because she had given the lace one to her daughter. And little by little the sentimental treasures in her home were replaced. The "real" items were in the hands of those she meant to have them. She could eat on her old lace tablecloth when she visited her daughter. Her antique bookcase was in her son's home, and the books were donated to the town library. I have a little glass basket from her curio cabinet and I think of her each time it catches my eye on my own glass shelf. In her 90s this sensible woman checked herself into the community care center. When her children sold her house a few years later (while Aunt E was still alive), there was no agonizing question of what to do with the "treasures." It was simply a financial transaction. I truly hope that I will have the good sense to follow Aunt E's example, and take charge of what happens to the sentimental treasure of my estate while I am still of sound mind.

My grandmother gave me a ceramic Christmas tree before she moved out of state. Charolottelim, I don't understand what you mean by "you will have NOTHING to remember her when she is gone." The little glass basket and the ceramic Christmas tree are absolutely permanent reminders of my loved ones. The fact that I got them before their owners died does not in any way detract from their value in that regard.

Kalypso, you think of giving the possessions away as an erasure. Since you look at it that way it would be very inappropriate to "erase" your mom's presence and it would be very painful for you. I would never urge you to do it. But other people see giving away possessions as a "dispersal." Rather than erasing the presence it is a matter of spreading it out. All those little treasures that were in the lighted curio cabinet in the dining room are now in several cabinets and shelves all over the state and beyond. Mom's presence hasn't been erased ... it has been relocated and celebrated. Erased? Dispersed? These are just ways we look at things. I respect your view on not giving away someone's possessions before they die, but I also don't think people who hold a different view are disrepectful or insensitive.

Bhenson, believe me, people with Alzhiemer's or other forms of dementia who go into a nursing home are NOT going to get better. If there is the slightest chance of the loved one recovering and returning home, then it should be up the them whether/when to give possessions away. Maybe like my Aunt E they'd welcome the chance to take control of seeing to it their treasures have good new home. And maybe not.

alnderry, how wise to recognize "There's a delicate balance between keeping a shrine with nothing changed and being realistic about adjusting to a new pattern of life." I am so sorry you are needing to adjust to a new pattern of life. Having a spouse in a nursing home is a very painful loss.

This is a useful topic to think about.
I completely disagree with the answer as well! Your mom is in a nursing home. She's not gone. I wouldn't care if she had alzheimers and didn't know, they are still her possessions. Before my mom passed away I wouldn't have ever thought to give anything away. This is her stuff and she didn't tell me to. What would have happened if by chance, mom got better and i had given all her stuff away. I agree with Kalypso that it is sooo disrespectful to do that. I can't tell you how much the answer enraged me. While mom is alive, she still owns that stuff. Unless she told you specifically to give it away I wouldn't do that. Also, if I had started giving mom's stuff away while she was alive, I think my relatives would have taken it as if I were trying to speed up her death or something. I would beg of you not to listen to Cindy.
With all due respect, that's bullshit. Giving away her possessions the second she's out the door is like effectively erasing her as an individual. The reason we wait until someone is dead, is because once they're dead, their possessions help us REMEMBER them. If she's still ALIVE, she doesn't need to remembered, she needs to be visited, cared for, loved, spoken to, helped.
I know how difficult it must be to be the child of an Alzhiemers patient. It's no where near easy to do what you're doing. But farming her off to a home and then dividing up her stuff the second she's gone is not only disrespectful, it's insensitive.