Life is full of tough decisions. One of the toughest is to judge whether it is time to find a nursing home for an elderly relative. It is a decision where emotional, practical, financial, and legal issues come together in a uniquely intense way, very often at a time when the care-giver’s inner resources are at a low ebb.
It is quite natural to put off the thought of a nursing home. If someone has cared for us in infancy, we feel a moral duty to care for her in old age. Caring is also a rewarding role in its own right, and many people find their own resources blossoming through the process of providing practical and emotional support.
Sometimes the elderly person has elicited a promise that she will not be ‘sent away to one of those places,’ and guilt becomes a major factor. But there may come a time when the wellbeing of both parties dictates a change. And a care-giver has other responsibilities besides that of caring—to himself, to the rest of his family, and to society.
Signs of the Times
Sometimes a crisis makes a move to nursing care unavoidable. There may be an accident or sickness that requires hospitalization. The care-giver may also be taken ill. Then something has to be done at once. More often there is a gradual build-up of pressures, and it is very difficult to predict which straw will break the camel’s back—it always seems that we can cope with a little more. But exhaustion and burn-out are built on these small accumulations. An exhausted care-giver is a danger to herself and to the person she cares for. She may also be neglecting that precious gift of fullness of life to which her parent devoted so much time and effort in years gone by.
So we need to look for signs that the time might be drawing near to talk about a nursing home:
- Is your loved one developing signs of dementia that are beyond your control? Is he a danger to himself and others (including you)?
- Are you constantly tired?
- Have you got aches and pains that make it difficult for you to do normal things?
- Are your relationships with other people suffering as a result of your caring role?
- Are other people worried about you?
- Are you forgetting to do other important things?
We all notice some of these things some of the time, but when they become a consistent pattern it is time to reflect seriously on the alternatives to caring at home.
Choosing a Home
Choosing a nursing home is a major decision at a time when your resources are low, so don’t try to do it alone. Get as much advice and support as you can—from other family members, from friends, from your doctor, from voluntary organizations caring for the elderly. As far as possible (depending on their capacity) involve the person you are caring for.
Compile a list of nursing homes and research them online and through visiting. As well as practical and financial issues, you are looking for:
- A good general impression—trust your gut feeling
- A place where residents are welcome to bring their own possessions to furnish their rooms
- A varied program of activities which your loved one will enjoy
- Good food
- Above all, a genuinely caring staff (including the management) who will welcome your involvement
What if It Goes Wrong?
Of course, there is always a risk, despite all your best efforts, that something might fall below the standard of care you expect. If you have built up a good relationship with the staff, and been supportive of them, most issues can be dealt with quickly by pointing problems out to them and working together on a solution.
If things prove to be completely unacceptable, you now have considerable experience to look for another home; and if the worst comes to the worst, there are specialist nursing home neglect lawyers who can battle with you to get the best settlement for any bad treatment your loved one receives.
Best of Times, Worst of Times
Finding yourself in the situation when you can no longer provide the care that you promised is one of the worst experiences that anyone can encounter. But take heart, many who have been through it look back on the day they shared the burden with a nursing home as one of the best decisions of their life.
Tom Howe writes about elder care. The main caregiver for his ageing father for several years, Tom recently had to make the decision to put him into a nursing home. Tom hopes that his articles will help others in a similar situation, providing support and useful information.
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