The decision to place an elderly parent into a care home or assisted living situation is never easy. Emotional issues and anxieties are bound to arise for both your parent and you, along with a level of stress you might not have expected.
Your parent might not even want to go into a care home. Despite obvious and practical reasons – managing a household has become more than your parent can manage, his or her quality of life has deteriorated – your parent might still oppose moving. Resistance typically springs from several emotions, including sadness over leaving a home and memories, denial of the ageing process, dread of loneliness, and fear of losing independence.
Besides resistance, your parent might show anger and resentment. “Why are you doing this to me?” and “You just want me to go away!” are frequent expressions. Your parent might also become manipulative, inducing guilt with accusations like, “You promised your father/mother you’d always take care of me.”
It is important to understand that much of what your parent says is directed at the situation, not at you. This can help you to be patient and resist getting involved into no-win arguments. Your parent actually needs reassurance they are loved at this time, so whether it’s a simple hug, or doing or saying something to let them know you love them.
Then there is the guilt… you might start doubting your own decision to place your parent into a care home. Adult children often feel they are letting the parent down if they don’t care for them at home. But it’s likely you’ve tried home care if it is a viable option, and found it created stress or wasn’t the right thing for your parent or the rest of your family. Remind yourself that you are acting in the interests of all concerned.
Moving a parent into care can also cause many feelings connected to past issues to rear their heads. If you’ve had a difficult relationship with your parent, you may also feel remorse that your relationship was never what you hoped it would be. At the same time, you may resent being responsible for a parent who didn’t nurture you.
The tension of placing a parent in care can affect other parts of your life as well. You partner may feel neglected, your work and health can suffer as the anxiety affects your sleep and focus, and siblings can make things worse by letting you shoulder the responsibility alone.
What is important here is to recognise that you are experiencing many types of stress, and that if you feel panic or anxiety it does not necessarily mean you are doing the wrong thing. You are simply experiencing an overwhelm and being triggered in many different ways by this time of transition.
7 Positive Steps to take to make the transition of putting a parent into care easier
Here are a number of actions you can take to forestall problems and make the transition of putting your parent into care as smooth as possible.
1. Get a reliable physical and mental evaluation for your parent.
A number of treatable physical conditions, including dehydration and thyroid problems, can create symptoms that suggest dementia, and psychological problems like depression are often under-diagnosed in the elderly. Make sure you know what’s going on with you parent so you can choose a facility that best meets his or her needs.
2. Listen. And then listen some more.
A little listening goes a long way to soothe fears and anxieties about the move your parent might have. Don’t dismiss concerns as petty or illogical, but show your parent with a touch or a nod that you are truly listening.
And listen to everyone else involved, too, like your siblings, partner, and children. If you are the ‘doer’ in the family, it can be easy to use your efficiency to hide your stress. But this can also shut out other people. Even if they are not as close to your parent, not wanting to be as involved in the decisions being made, or have opinions you don’t agree with, try not to cut them out of the process.
With your children, try to make sure you listen to how the move is affecting them. They might try to hide their worry from you to ease your stress, but be secretly experiencing anxiety of their own at their grandparent becoming more frail.
3. Explore the options carefully.
There are many types of care and assisted living available, and it is a money making industry like any other. Don’t go by the glossy brochures and publicity. It might require a lot of footwork, but visiting different facilities, getting to know the staff, learning what activities are offered, and observing residents on an ordinary day will pay off in finding a facility that matches your parent’s abilities and personality.
Try to go with what will suit your parent, not what you think is good, as they are the ones who will be living there. For example, if your parent enjoyed gardening and the outdoors, you might give extra consideration to a facility with attractive grounds and interesting walking paths even if another one is bigger and cleaner in your eyes.
4.Keep your parent involved even if it’s hard.
Even if your parent is upset with you and not wanting to talk about the move, let them know as much as you can and try to make it their decision as much as possible.
When our parents’ generation thinks of a care facility, they usually picture an old-fashioned nursing home where they are treated like a child. If your parent can tour facilities with you, seeing that this is no longer the case and that independent living is now possible within a care situation, it will decrease anxiety. Point out different features and help your parent assess which ones might be most important to them.
If your parent cannot visit in person, gather brochures for them or help them tour sites on a laptop. This can be something a grandchild can help with, keeping them involved too.
5. Assure you parent that they are not being abandoned.
Coordinate with friends and family members to create a reliable stream of visits, calls, and correspondence. This will keep your parent from feeling lonely, spare you a lot of guilt, and create an information flow that keeps you up-to-date on how your parent is doing. If you can create a sample schedule before your parent moves, it can assist them feel better about the decision.
It can help to make the space feel like home instead of somewhere strange and new. When making the move, don’t think only of what’s needed. Make sure you parent has objects that will make the new living space comforting and familiar. Pictures, knickknacks, favourite books, hobby or craft items all create a feeling of home and promote the sense that life is continuing.
6. Expect some fallout.
Understand that it will take a month or more for your parent to adjust to the new surroundings. Be on alert for signs of depression such as loss of appetite, listlessness, poor hygiene and inability to enjoy simple pleasures. Most facilities have a mental health professional on staff, and you should tell them of any concerns you have. Bringing grandchildren to visit or going out for a meal will provide some fun and distraction for everyone.
7. Get support for all involved.
If you begin to feel overwhelmed, depressed, or angry, it is important to seek support. This might be a support group, online forums where you can communicate with others going through what you are, or professional counselling. A good therapist will help you sort through difficult emotions and work with you to develop effective coping strategies.
You might even want to consider family counselling, where everyone involved in the transition can be offered a safe space to communicate.
The benefit of seeking help at this time is that it can turn a very difficult situation into a time of healing of old wounds and issues. Stressful times understandably trigger everyone. With the right approach and patience, it is possible that the stress of putting your parent into care can bond instead of threaten your relationships with your partner, children, siblings, and parent.
Throughout the entire experience of placing your parent into a care home, remember that most elderly not only accept the move but continue to find enjoyment and meaning in their lives. Be patient, be loving, get help when you need it and don’t underestimate the value of time in easing the stress of adjustment.
Have you experienced the stress of putting a parent into care? Fancy sharing a tip? Or have something else to say? Do so below, we love hearing from you.
Photos by David Goehring, British Red Cross, Ann, Eric Danley