Your parents say they won’t move.
It’s a common, exhausting scenario: You see signs that your aging parents need more help than you’re able to provide, but they refuse it. They insist that they’re fine on their own, but the evidence and your intuition tell you that’s not true. Perhaps one or both of your parents’ health has taken a turn for the worse. Or maybe after months or years, you’re experiencing caregiver burnout and seeing your own health and relationships deteriorating.
Yet having the conversation and ultimately moving elderly parents to assisted living, or another form of senior living, is probably one of the hardest decisions someone will ever have to make, says Stella Henry, a registered nurse and author of The Eldercare Handbook.
“Many seniors unrealistically believe they can take care of themselves for the rest of their lives,” she says. That’s why family members can be instrumental in identifying problems and making changes to help their loved ones, she adds.
Even when you know relocating your parents to a senior living community is the right thing to do for their safety and health, guilty feelings may arise.
“Emotions range from feeling inadequate to feeling overly responsible,” says Dr. Stephan Quentzel, a psychiatrist in New York affiliated with Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital.
Deciding it is time to move a loved one to a senior care home, even if they’re willing to move, can be difficult and muster up feelings of guilt. Seeing your loved ones begin to struggle in their daily lives is tough on everyone involved.
Although difficult to deal with, these feelings are normal, just like wanting to improve the quality of life of your loved one. Here are some tips to help you overcome these feelings of guilt while moving your older loved ones.
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Thinking about these things can help reassure you that making the move to a senior living community is the right option for you and your loved one.
Earlier is better than later to discuss a move to assisted living — though many wait. Henry says 95% of her clients come to her in crises, which often results in caregiver guilt and added stress. If you have the discussion early and often, your loved one will be better prepared for the next steps.
As for what to say? “Make it your problem instead of your parents’ problem,” says Henry. “Clearly express your concern by saying, ‘Mom, I’m concerned about you; it makes me worried to see you like this.’”
Nine out of ten parents don’t want to burden their children and will often respond to this sort of honest communication, says Henry. If you make it clear to your loved one that you’re focused on doing what’s best for both of you, it can be easier for them to accept change.
Whether the process goes smoothly or there are bumps along the way, adult children often have guilty feelings about moving their elderly parents to assisted living or long-term care. Here are four ways to cope:
1. Focus on the small victories. Did your parent enjoy a meal or activity in their new home? Do you sleep better knowing they’re less likely to fall in their new surroundings? When guilt creeps in, remind yourself of the benefits of their new home, experts say.
“Small victories include excellent palliative care, creating meaningful activities, even keeping our parents together for as long as possible,” Quentzel says.
2. Accept some uncertainty. Being put in the position to make critical arrangements for others is often hugely stressful. When the task concerns relocating your parents to an assisted living community or nursing home — a decision with enormous financial and lifestyle consequences — the anxiety and second-guessing can be even higher. Remember why you made the choices you did but know that some uncertainty will remain about how things might turn out.
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3. Give it time. As with any change, there will be an adjustment period — for children and their aging parents. It will likely take time for your parents’ relocation to senior living to bear fruit. Strike up a conversation with family members visiting their loved ones and ask them how they dealt with the change. Enjoy meaningful moments with your loved one, and restorative time doing what you like to do, during this transition period.
4. Visit often. By visiting often, you can help your loved one can feel more like they’re welcoming a guest into their home rather than feeling like they are a guest at an extended stay facility. Continuing normal routines in a senior’s new home can help you and your senior loved one feel more comfortable with the new living arrangement. Visiting often also keeps you in the know about what’s going on with your loved one, and helps your parent feel more connected.
“Dealing with my mother’s dementia, which came on so quickly, challenged every fiber of who I am,” Marjorie W. of Washington recalls. “My mother was a very sharp woman who made me promise, after having dinner with a family member suffering from dementia, that I would never allow her to become like that. But I had no idea how to deal with this demand once dementia started.”
It wasn’t until she began caring for her mother full time that Marjorie realized she was in over her head. The lack of a medically prepared and knowledgeable support system put added stress on her mother’s health, as well as on her family’s health and her own. Now, years later, that her father needs extra care, Marjorie is better prepared to do what’s needed.
“One positive result occurred — after experiencing all of the feelings of guilt with my mother’s situation, I was clear that placing my father in an assisted-living situation was the right thing to do. Because I had bound myself in guilt with my mother, the questions surrounding my father’s relocation were mostly answered.”
Marjorie’s father made a smooth transition to assisted living and then to a nursing home when the time was right. He had the ability to help choose his living situation and thrived in his new home.
Watching your parents grow old can be an exhausting and painful process. Although your parents might be apprehensive about leaving the homes they are familiar with, the move to senior living can be a positive experience for everyone involved and even vastly improve the lives of both seniors and their loved ones.
The journey to senior living does not have to be exhausting or painful. Reach out to A Place for Mom to find support, guidance, and a listening ear to help you through this challenging time. Our Senior Living Advisors can provide the knowledge you need to make the best decision for you and your parents.
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