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How to Handle Caregiver Guilt After Moving Parents Into Senior Living

Kristen Hicks
By Kristen HicksMarch 5, 2019

Family caregivers face a complicated mix of emotions while caring for parents and seniors loved ones – and the least useful of them all is guilt. In addition to taking away energy and time that you can’t afford, guilt can also keep you from making the best decision for your parents. In a lot of cases, that decision is handing a loved one’s care over to a skilled professional, rather than continuing to carry the full burden yourself.

For many caregivers, one of the biggest hurdles to making that decision is giving yourself permission to feel okay about it. Learn more about moving loved ones into senior living and see how to minimize caregiver guilt.

6 Reasons Why Moving Parents Into Senior Living May Be Best

A move to senior living won’t just mean less caregiving duties for you, it provides many benefits for your parents as well:

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1. Assisted and senior living staff have a specific set of skills needed to care for your loved one.

Unless you’re a gerontologist or nurse by profession, you haven’t specifically trained in how best to care for an aging senior. The people who work in senior living communities have. All those hours you spent learning how to do your job have made you better at it than a layperson. In the same way, senior living staff knows more about how to handle the various types of help seniors need than many loved ones do.

While there are always ways you’ll know your parents better than a staff member, there are still skills they’re able to bring to the table that you don’t have.

2. If you’re not taking care of yourself, the care you provide will suffer.

Concern for your health isn’t just about you. If you’re sick or stressed out all the time, you’re not able to provide them the level of care they need.

To be there for your parents in the way they need, you need your health — both mental and physical.

3. Senior living communities can spread the care around so no one person is overwhelmed.

If you’ve been doing all the work of caregiving on your own, then by now you know well how unrealistic it is for one person to shoulder the entire burden. You can’t balance the responsibilities of your own life and be a full-time caregiver for your parents at the same time. The truth is nobody can do that much.

Senior living communities have a number of staff members who work different shifts, so the work is spread around. That doesn’t mean they don’t still work hard, just that they’re able to keep the workload a little more manageable than one person trying to do everything can.

4. Senior living communities provide more access to medical professionals.

Unless you’re a medical professional yourself, you won’t be as good at recognizing changes in your parents’ health and knowing how to address them as a licensed doctor or nurse will.

Senior living communities generally have doctors or nurses on staff part-time, meaning that your parents will see someone with extensive medical knowledge regularly. That makes them safer.

5. Senior living communities provide resources and social activities one person can’t.

As seniors age, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay social and the lack of social opportunities can contribute to depression. While having you around is better than being isolated, one person can’t be someone’s whole social world. One of the big benefits that senior living communities provide is easy access to a larger social circle. Your parents can make new friends and easily see them every day, without the difficulty of traveling to meet them.

Senior living communities also schedule regular activities, such as fitness classes, movie nights and museum visits — all things that keep your parents active, without putting any more work on your plate.

6. Trying to do too much is bad for your health.

This is a very important point to acknowledge. Caregiving can take a real toll on your health. Trying to do too much work without enough rest can weaken your immune system and cause you to start facing more serious health issues. If caring for your parents requires helping move them in ways you find physically taxing, that can cause you injuries as well.

What happens to you and your parents if you break a bone or pull a muscle trying to take care of them? You both suffer and they’re likely to end up in the care of a professional anyway.

Ways to Minimize Your Feelings of Guilt

You may still struggle with guilt or feeling like a failure if you hand care over to someone else. It is a perfectly normal way to feel.

There are, however, a few steps that you can take to help you work through those feelings:

1. Find the best possible senior living community.

Spend time researching senior living communities in your area so you get a feel for your options. Visit the ones that look like the best fit for your parents and spend time talking to the people that live and work there. If you know the home your parents move into is full of people they’ll get along with, as well as staff who are well-qualified to care for them, then you can move them there with more confidence you’re making the right decision.

2. Go to therapy.

If you still have lingering guilt that’s negatively affecting your life, consider finding a good therapist. Having someone you can talk to about your feelings will help you work through them. Trained therapists are also equipped with actionable strategies for dealing with guilt or other negative feelings.

3. Help them make their new residence their own.

A room in a senior living community will inevitably feel different than a home, but you can still find ways to make it more comfortable for your parents. Help them pick out decorations and family photographs or mementos that will make the space more theirs. Make it a project you do together. It gives you a way to spend time together during the transition and will have a lasting influence on their time in a senior living community.

4. Visit often.

Moving parents to senior living doesn’t mean you’ll stop seeing them all the time. You can visit as often you as want and you should! If the community is close to where you live, commit to coming by every week or more. If it’s a little further, commit to visits in person as often as you can manage and Skype calls in the interim. Make sure your parents know the move won’t get in the way of your relationship with each other.

Taking care of parents is a big job and you might not be the best person for it. Finding the right senior living community to trust with the job will improve your and your parents’ lives.

Have you experienced caregiver guilt over moving your parents into senior living? How did you minimize your guilt? We’d like to hear your stories and tips in the comments below.

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Kristen Hicks
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Kristen Hicks
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