When an aging parent reaches the point where they can no longer be independent, families often find themselves in the front seat on an emotional roller coaster. Guilt, resentment, stress, fear and doubt are just a few of the emotions that adult children must find a way to work through. While most of us agree that long term care and assisted living is something we should plan for before we need it, the majority of families don’t. Then a senior loved one experiences a sudden illness or accident and adult children find themselves trying to cope with the medical crisis while worrying about where their parent will go after they are discharged from the hospital. Sibling rivalries and complicated family dynamics heat up as every member of the family thinks they know what is “best for mom.” Coping with the emotions when helping aging parents can be difficult.
Planning for Assisted Living and Long Term Care
If your senior loved one is resistant to planning ahead for when they need more care, a better approach might be to suggest you work together to create an emergency plan. Reinforce the idea that you may never have to use it but if you do, it is better to be prepared.
An important part of planning ahead will be for you and your siblings to educate yourselves on what types of senior care are available. There are great resources online that can help you understand the differences between home care, home health care, assisted living care and a nursing home. If you know what the options are before you need them, you will be more confident that you are making an informed decision instead of a hasty one.
Coping with Difficult Emotions
If your family is like many others, however, you might not have a senior care plan in place before it becomes obvious your aging parent needs help. As families begin to investigate senior living options for a parent, they will likely be struggling to come to terms with the idea that their loved one is getting old. It might be the first time an adult child has really looked at their mother or father and admitted that they are frail and in need of help. Accepting that is a major life event for most children. Psychiatrists often use the term “anticipatory grief” to explain this type of loss. Adult children may begin to realize their role in a parent’s life has come full circle. They are now the decision maker and guardian of their parent’s best interests.
Transitioning to Assisted Living
If you have been playing the role of caregiver for your aging parent, preparing them to make this transition may cause you to feel guilty, fearful and stressed. It isn’t easy to turn a loved one’s care over to someone else, especially if that requires them to leave their home and move to an assisted living community or a nursing home.
Family tensions often run high during this time. Siblings who might not have been helpful in meeting a parent’s daily needs may now become critical of the choices the sibling who has shouldered the burden of care makes because they are feeling guilty. All of this comes at a time the primary caregiver is feeling as if they have let their parent down in encouraging them to make a move. It is important to know that your family is not alone in struggling with these dynamics. They are emotions almost every family battles.
Try to remind yourself throughout this transition that you have researched the options and made the most informed choice that you can make.
Other suggestions that might help make the transition go more smoothly include:
• Work with the staff at the assisted living community before the move to determine what furniture and belongings will fit in your aging parent’s new apartment. Having their favorite, familiar things around them will help them feel more at home making the early days after the move less traumatic.
• Try to make the move to the assisted living community before selling their home, if that is possible. That approach will help avoid the stress of being forced to downsize, pack and move in a hurry when the house sells. It will also prevent your family member from having to leave the house during often inconvenient realtor showings and open houses. For additional tips, read Downsizing & Selling Your House.
• Consider hiring experienced senior experts to help. Senior move managers and senior certified realtors are especially good resources. They are accustomed to meeting the unique needs of older adults who are in the process of downsizing. They are also experienced at working with families who are trying to manage the emotions of this transition.
• Try not to let sibling disagreements become a barrier in getting things done. If you think that will be hard to do, consider hiring a family mediator. They can help families work through the emotions and resentments and come up with a solution that best meets your aging parent’s needs.
• Don’t be too hard on yourself. These will be emotional days for you and for your senior loved one. Accept that there will be tearful times and stressful days.
After a Loved One Moves to Assisted Living
Figuring out your new role in your aging loved one’s life after they have moved to an assisted living community will likely be another emotional transition. There will be a period of adjustment for everyone.
For families, the early days after a move means trusting strangers to care for someone they love. It also means coping with emotions that include:
• Second guessing the decisions you’ve made
• Feeling remorseful about not being able to keep your loved one at home
• Being overly critical of their new caregivers as you cope with your own guilt
Try to take time to get to know the caregivers and staff members of the senior living community. Share stories of your loved one with staff so they have the opportunity to get to know your parent through your eyes. Be present in your senior loved one’s new life while still encouraging them to get involved in the life enrichment activities and informal groups that are such an important part of a senior living community.