Caregiving is a job that is full of ups and downs. Many of us take on this role out of love and concern. But as care needs increase, the pressure ramps up and we are faced with difficult care decisions. Many of us promised in good faith, back when our loved ones were younger and healthier, that we would never put them in a nursing home. That would be like abandoning them. If need be, it’s our pledge to care for them ourselves until the end.
This is admirable thinking. However, as years go by and care needs mount, we find ourselves faced with the fact that we can’t raise our families, work our jobs and provide full-time hands-on care year-round. So, with some guilt, we start looking at other options. For some people, this means having your parents move in with you. This is a viable option for some families but very detrimental to others.
Another option is hiring in-home care or enrolling your loved one in adult day care. Unfortunately, these options usually incite some feelings of caregiver guilt because you are now sharing the caregiving with strangers. You assured your loved one that you were going to handle it all yourself, but now you can’t. They need more care than you can provide, so you have to make some kind of change to their care plan.
There are plenty of benefits to home care and adult day programs. Seniors get care and supervision, social interaction, and activities that are more stimulating than watching TV all day, but sometimes this doesn’t assuage the remorse you feel. Eventually, the day comes when in-home care and adult day care either can’t handle all of their needs or the assistance becomes unaffordable. Usually only one choice remains, and that is a nursing home.
Ditch the Guilt about Senior Care Decisions
Cheryl E. Woodson, MD, family caregiver to her mother and author of To Survive Caregiving: A Daughter’s Experience, A Doctor’s Advice on Finding Hope, Help and Health, says that you can still honor the spirit of your promise even if you have to break it.
None of us knows the future. Our parents have visions of the crowded, smelly nursing homes that existed decades ago, before regulations were put in place to protect residents and employees. The very idea of moving to a nursing home is unthinkable to them, but the truth is that these long-term care facilities have made leaps and bounds since most people last visited one. Despite these improvements, caregivers still tend to agree that living in one isn’t ideal. We all want to remain in our own homes, living independently or at least with the help of those we love and are comfortable with. But swearing off nursing homes usually happens when loved ones are still healthy and the possibility of such a decision is far off.
Years later when the unthinkable happens and your parent or spouse requires skilled medical care and/or around the clock supervision, this promise will come back to haunt you. Whether your loved one is laying on the guilt or the blame is largely self-imposed, there’s no point in letting it get to you. You can’t change the level of care they require, and you can’t singlehandedly meet these needs. Trying to keep a loved one at home is admirable, but at some point, this becomes unsafe and unsustainable for both of you. One person attempting to do the same job as an entire skilled nursing facility can be detrimental to your loved one’s health and is a guaranteed recipe for caregiver burnout.
Placing a senior in a nursing home can feel like a monumental failure, but this isn’t the case. Adjusting your attitude can help you realize that you are actually fulfilling the underlying commitment you made to your love one. When you boil it down, you vowed to ensure they receive the best possible care in a comfortable setting. If you have researched alternatives to placement and still decided that a nursing home is the only viable option, then ditch the guilt. You have done all you can. You have honored the spirit of your promise and are making a difficult decision to ensure your loved one is properly cared for. That’s what being a good caregiver is all about.
Finding the Right Nursing Home Can Make the Decision Easier
Doing your due diligence when researching and selecting a nursing home will help offer you some peace of mind. If your loved one is capable, it is very beneficial for them to participate in this process. While long-term care facilities have improved over the decades, there are still some undesirable ones out there. So, learn about what to look for in a facility, its staff and the services it offers. Tour prospective providers a few times each, ideally before an immediate need arises. The more time you have to make a decision, the less stressful it will be and the more thoroughly you can vet these places. Keep in mind that some facilities are in high demand and there are waiting lists for admission. If you find a nursing home that is warm, inviting, clean and staffed by friendly, attentive employees, you’ll feel much more confident in your decision and comfortable with moving your loved one in.
Caregiving Doesn’t End After Transitioning to a Nursing Home
One common misconception about moving seniors to a long-term care facility is that family members just dust off their hands and no longer serve as caregivers. While that may be a possibility for some who go no-contact, most simply take on a different role in their loved ones’ care. There are still some responsibilities to see to, like visits, laundry, shopping for personal care items, managing finances, etc. But the biggest change is that caregivers are no longer responsible for assisting with time-consuming activities of daily living (ADLs). Family members can actually enjoy spending time with their loved ones rather than focusing solely on meeting their needs. Visiting caregivers are less likely to be so worn out that they’re unpleasant to be around.
The biggest responsibility you will take on after moving a loved one to a nursing home is serving as their advocate. They need you to put the personal touches on their room and to be visible to the staff and other residents. They need you to help them settle in and make friends. They need you to ensure they’re getting quality care and that they’re mentally and physically healthy. Most of all, they need you to help make this their new home and be the person who visits without all the pressure and exhaustion that lends to caregiver stress.
Caregivers can be dedicated, but that dedication can turn into martyrdom. Frankly, martyrs aren’t good caregivers. Accepting the help of a good facility while keeping an eye on things and continuing to care for your elder in this new role allows you to take off your martyr hat and stop running yourself ragged. You can do it without guilt because you have done your best. You are still doing your best. Just because someone else is responsible for your loved one’s care doesn’t mean it is automatically substandard. Accept your humanity without shame. Honor the spirit of your promises by being the best caregiver you can be. Be a caregiver who knows when to say when.