This scenario may sound extremely familiar. You’ve been caring for mom or dad for quite a while, but it’s gotten to the point where it’s just not safe for them to keep on living at home. Your parent needs more care than you can provide. After months of vacillation, you finally make up your mind: your parent needs to move to a care facility.
A Pervasive Sense of Guilt
Anyone who has faced that painful decision knows the overwhelming mix of emotions that goes along with it. This article just published on the aging-related website NextAvenue brings up another painful side effect that often accompanies the choice to move mom or dad to assisted living or nursing care: a pervasive sense of guilt. Sometimes that guilt is served up by well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) family members who can’t understand or support your action. The article is called, “When You Are Shamed for Moving a Parent into a Care Center – how to cope when other relatives don’t understand your decision.” It’s a helpful read for any caregiver wrestling with one of the toughest choices they’ll ever have to make.
The article in NextAvenue was written by a woman named Rachael Wonderlin, director of memory care at an assisted living community – so she is probably not entirely unbiased. But she does raise an extremely valid point. “We’ve all heard of ‘shaming,’ a phrase that seems to have picked up more popularity recently,” Wonderlin writes, citing examples like “body shaming” and “fat shaming” and even “middle class shaming.” She adds, “I’ve become very familiar with another type of shaming: shaming people for moving their loved ones into long-term care communities.” The common scenario: friends and relatives who weren’t there for you during your caregiver journey step in with a critical voice once you’ve come to the place where you simply can’t cope anymore.
Dementia Makes Caregiving Even Harder
“Although it would be very nice if everyone could take care of their aging loved ones at home forever, this is just not the case for many families,” says NextAvenue. A wide variety of factors can get in the way. Perhaps the house you’re living in is just unsuitable for the increasing care needs of your loved one. Or the issue could be financial: while many caregivers are forced to quit their jobs or cut back their hours at work, for some families that’s simply not possible. But the biggest factor that weighs on the decision to get institutional help for an aging, increasingly frail parent is the type of care they need. Based on our personal experience, this is especially common when the parent’s mental health is declining.
“Taking care of anyone at home is challenging,” says Wonderlin. “Taking care of an adult with dementia at home is particularly difficult. For example, if you are caring for someone with dementia in your three-story house, you cannot explain to that person that he or she should not attempt to use the stairs if they are home alone. People with dementia have trouble remembering facts, following directions, or understanding risks. I cannot tell you how many people have had to move their loved ones with dementia into an assisted living or skilled nursing facility because of a major fall.”
(Speaking of falls, the risk of falling at home can play a significant role in the decision to move a loved one to assisted living or nursing care. We discovered this article from the HealthDay website as we were researching the caregiving article: it’s titled “Seniors, Take Steps to Reduce Your Risk of Falling.” One senior in 4 will suffer a fall during the average year, and many end up hospitalized, so prevention is vital. The HealthDay article could be a helpful resource as you seek ways to provide safe care at home for a parent or other loved one.)
Not Like Raising Children
Writing in NextAvenue, Wonderlin raises an important distinction between serving as a “caregiver” for your own children versus caring for a senior loved one. “When you are raising children at home, there’s a community that rallies around you. You host big birthday parties, invite other parents and their children over to your house, plan nights out, call up babysitters, and, although you are probably exhausted, you feel joy in watching your children learn and grow.” But the other end of the spectrum is totally different. “From what I have seen, caring for an aging parent is the complete opposite. There is no sense of community. There is no joy in watching them grow and learn. There is only guilt, sadness and panic as you watch them descend deeper into physical and mental disability.” To paraphrase a familiar saying, “Caregiving isn’t for sissies.”
Here at AgingOptions we tend to feel that caring for a loved one at home, bringing in outside support as needed, is the ideal situation – but it’s not always possible or appropriate. Wonderlin’s final thought is a good one. “My hope,” she writes, “is that, as our population continues to age, our society will begin to understand the need for all types of care. The U.S. prides itself on being made up of many types of people and families. Yet we lack the progress and understanding that comes with accommodating different types of caregiving.” Her conclusion: “There is no shame in choosing the best possible care situation for you and your loved ones.”
Plan Now to Avoid Institutional Care Later
Caregiving and the emotional and physical toll it can take is an important topic, and if you find yourself facing a choice about care of a loved one, we urge you not to make the decision alone. Contact us here at AgingOptions and let us refer you to a professional team of care coordinators who can walk this journey with you. In the same way, if you’re walking the journey of retirement planning, we can be your guide to help you make certain your retirement plan is truly complete. The right plan can keep you from becoming a burden to your loved ones and even prevent you from being forced against your will into institutional care, so that your family will never have to face the painful decision we’ve been talking about. That “right plan” is a LifePlan from AgingOptions. You can find out more about this breakthrough in retirement planning by joining Rajiv Nagaich at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar – a free information-packed session that will open your eyes to the power of comprehensive planning for your retirement future.
There’s a LifePlanning Seminar coming soon to a location convenient for you. For a complete calendar and online registration, visit our Live Events page, or call our office. We’ll look forward to meeting you.
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)