When It's Time to Turn Over the Care

September 2017

When I hear caregivers say these words, it makes me sad: “I promised my mom I would never put her in a nursing home.” These words are usually followed by, “but I am overwhelmed and don’t know what to do because I made a promise to her.” 

Deciding when, or whether, to transition your loved one to a nursing home or assisted living community will likely be the most gut-wrenching decision you will face as a caregiver. There is tremendous guilt involved and a feeling that you are letting your parent or spouse down, breaking your promise. There is a feeling of failure since, after all, you are invincible, right?  Wrong! 

Caregivers are spread thin and must parcel out their energy to cover the demands made on them.  This may include holding down a job, parenting children while caring for a parent (the sandwich generation), coping with your own health problems, and, in some cases, maintaining your household while also maintaining your parent’s home. The time may come when it is just too much. And that’s OK. 

How will you know when it is time? It might be time if:

  • you are unable to perform at your job;
  • you are angry and resentful more often than not;
  • you are neglecting other important people in your life;
  • the care you need to provide exceeds your physical ability;
  • you experience a decline in your health.

Once you have made the decision, where do you begin?  The level of care your loved one needs will determine whether you will need an assisted living community or a nursing home.  Also, your loved one may need memory care, especially if he or she has a tendency to wander. Start by asking fellow employees, friends, and family if they have nursing home preferences and why.  People usually have strong feelings about the care their loved one has received or is receiving.  Ask your loved one’s primary care physician which nursing home they recommend and why.  The physician may serve as medical director for a particular home, allowing your loved one to continue under this physician’s care. 

However, in making your choice, nothing can replace actual tours of the homes you are considering. Tour several homes in your community and see which one feels right to you. As you tour, take note:

  • Does someone greet you as you enter the home?
  • How does the home smell?
  • Is the home noisy (call bells, intercom, etc.)?
  • Is the home clean?
  • Do the employees seem happy?
  • Are the employees interacting with residents?
  • Is there evidence of ongoing activities?
  • Does the food look and smell appetizing?
  • Is there a pleasant common space for visiting?
  • Is the home convenient to your house or your work?
  • Does the home provide the level of care your loved one needs?

As you go through this process, there is one thing I want you to remember. You will always be your loved one’s primary caregiver, whether they are living with you or living in a nursing home!  You will always be their advocate, their emotional support, the one who loves them the best! Someone else can provide the hands-on care your loved one needs, but you will always be the daughter (son, wife, husband) that you were born to be. As often happens, allowing someone else to provide that hands-on care results in you being a better daughter (son, wife, husband) because you are no longer exhausted. You can spend quality time with your loved one and make sure that their transition to the nursing home is as smooth as possible.  Then you can go home and get an uninterrupted night’s sleep, recharge your battery, and have the energy to be the best daughter/son/spouse that only you can be.    

Barbara Garwood is a transitional care coordinator for Lutheran Services Carolinas.  For more information about caregiving, please call Trinity at Home at 704-603-2776.

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