Placing a Loved One in a Nursing Home (Part I)

Contributed by:
Tom Shoemaker, MSW, LCSW – Medical Social Worker, OSF Home Care Services

The decision to move a loved one to a nursing home may be one of the most difficult decisions you will ever make. For many people, placing their loved one in a nursing home makes them feel like they failed as a caregiver. Even when caregivers know they’ve done all they can, a subconscious nagging voice often tells them they are giving up on their parents or spouse. On a rational note, you are not giving up. You are not abandoning them. You are just getting help.

Promises to never place a loved one in a nursing home may be sincere, but they are not always realistic. Promises that include the words “never” or “always” are unrealistic. None of us knows what the future holds, as life is fluid and changing.

Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout is one of the main reasons a family eventually places a loved one in a nursing home. Perpetual weariness is a common problem. Many discover they cannot do it all like they thought, or hoped, they could. Many caregivers feel isolated and overextended. Research has shown that as caregivers struggle to survive a difficult situation, they may not recognize they are prone to emotional strain and physical and emotional problems like depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, back pain, etc.

If you are the lone caregiver, remember that burnout is a very real possibility, and it is important to reach out and accept support. It is very important to acknowledge your limitations. Everyone has them. That’s what makes us human. Sometimes moving a loved one to a nursing home is best for all involved.

Starting the Process

Start the decision making process by asking these questions:

1. Are you finding it difficult to continue hands-on care for your loved one?

2. Do you feel emotionally or chronically drained?

It can be helpful to discuss your situation with a team from hospice, home health, or other professional staff. Besides learning about care options for your loved one, you may also learn new ways to cope with your limitations and concerns.

Finding the Right Facility

It is important to tour several nursing homes if you are able. Talk to the staff, observe what is going on, and watch how the staff interacts with their residents and each other. When you choose a nursing home, consider respect of the residents there first. You can pick up on the level of respect they provide if you spend time in the home.

When you see the staff in action, you will know what nursing home is right for your loved one. There are many ways to tell if a nursing home is well run, but your gut is probably your best resource.

Once your loved one is in the nursing home, a time of adjustment to the new environment is to be expected, for your loved one and for you. With your loved one at a nursing home, you are a very important part of the care team there. It can be a step up to be a part of the nursing care team for you, your loved one, and your family. A good nursing home experience includes the family as a vital part of the care team.

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