The Big Transition: How to Ease Your Loved One’s Move to a Nursing Home (Without Guilt)

The decision to move your aging parent into a nursing home can be one of the most difficult you’ll ever face. Plenty of guilt. Will he feel comfortable? Will she get the proper care? Won’t it feel impersonal? It’s so expensive! And the biggest guilt trip—why couldn’t you just keep your loved one at home and take care of him or her, yourself?

But the reality is that home-based care isn’t always the best alternative, even if you have the best intentions. Some people need more care than you can provide safely at home. A parent who has frequent medical emergencies that require trips to the ER may actually be better cared for in a nursing home, which has a medical support team on staff. A parent with advancing dementia needs a secure setting and caregivers with special training.

Your health and well-being count, too. If you’re worn out from caring for your parent and holding down a job in addition, you can find yourself sick, angry or just making more mistakes due to exhaustion. And if you’re staying at home to care for your parent, forfeiting employment, your personal financial situation may be at risk. The situation becomes all the more complicated if you have children at home who also need your attention. There’s only so much of you to go around, and your needs count, too.

Be Honest: Where Will Your Loved One Be Safest?

There are many tradeoffs to consider. Your parent’s safety is a key determining factor. Setting your own ego aside and screening out what you think are society’s expectations, take time to assess your parent’s needs and how he or she will be cared for best. Be honest with yourself about what you can and cannot do. Seek input from trusted family members and friends, as well as professional insights from a care manager. Include your parent in the decision, to the extent that he or she is able to participate.

Once you’ve agreed that a nursing home placement is best, you’ll need to research alternatives. Be sure to visit. When picking a site, notice whether the staff and leadership know residents by name. Can you envision your parent fitting in with the other residents? Are staff interested in learning about your loved one’s personal preferences? Here are some more points to consider.

Be Empathetic: What Will Help Your Loved One Feel Most at Home?

When you’ve made your arrangements and are ready to help your loved one move, here are some other tips to ease the transition:

Look at the move from your loved one’s perspective. What can you bring to his or her new room to make it feel familiar and comfortable? You may be able to include a favorite chair, family pictures, a comforter or other personal items. Consider bringing your loved one’s favorite music, too–on an iPod, CDs and CD player, or even a satellite radio set-up.

If your parent will have a roommate, talk to the nursing home staff in advance to explore issues that could create a conflict, such as:

  • Waking and sleeping habits
  • Need for privacy
  • Desire for companionship
  • Grooming habits
  • Need for orderly space
  • Sensitivity to noise or inability to hear well

Ask what kinds of clothing will be appropriate. Determine whether you will have the facility do your parent’s laundry or if you will take care of it, which will affect whether or not your parent will take more delicate items that cannot withstand industrial laundering.

Be Realistic: Adjusting to a New Setting Takes Time

Be supportive, and be realistic. Don’t expect your parent to be thrilled with his or her new surroundings at the beginning. This is a huge adjustment and will take time. Do your best to listen, and tap the professionals, including nursing staff and social workers, to help both you and your parent make the transition. Visit often. Be present. Observe how your parent is being cared for and speak up if there are issues.

At the same time, try not to let your parent’s frustrations or complaints, which are inevitable, to throw you off. Remember: The ultimate measure of the move is your parent’s health and well-being over time—and your own.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified geriatric care manager. Drawing on more than 30 years of professional experience in geriatric care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsGCM.

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