As a society, we have adopted the belief that moving an older person into an independent or assisted living community (or especially a nursing home), is just about the worst thing a loved one could ever do. This type of decision has been known to bring on overwhelming feelings of guilt and uncertainty about what’s really best for the person we love.
If you’ve ever felt this way, know that you are NOT a bad child, caregiver, or person. You’re actually just like thousands of other individuals in the same situation, who are exhausted, frustrated, and worried about how to best care for the senior in their life.
As we ring in the new year this month—a time when many of us are reminded of the power of positive change and fresh outlooks—let’s take a moment to sweep away some of the “old” habits surrounding the caregiver’s plight. When it comes to deciding on whether or not to transition your loved one to a senior living community, let’s usher in some new, helpful insights than can support your efforts.
Addressing the Instinct to Shield and Protect
As caregivers, we often feel that our role is to protect our loved ones, occasionally from the truth of the reality of their situation. We do this because we are in denial ourselves, or we fear change and put off facing reality only when a crisis forces us to do so. But protecting someone from the truth usually makes things worse.
The reality is that no matter how much focus a senior places on wellness and quality of living, certain physical and mental changes are inevitable. And we can only begin to imagine how an older loved one struggles to face these changes, including emotional issues like the grief associated with loss, the frustration of decreasing independence, and the fear of the unknown. Acknowledging these realities, however, instead of trying to shield an aging loved one from them, is a crucial way to support them during this time.
They may balk at the idea of leaving their home and moving to a senior living community, likely based on the emotional pain they’re experiencing. Of course, being honest doesn't mean forcing a conversation. It means assessing the relationship and asking whether you’re the right person to introduce the discussion. If you are, it means opening the door to it with gentleness and calmness and seeking clues that the person is ready to engage with you. In the end, talking with them and listening to them can help them avoid feeling misunderstood and unappreciated.
Overcoming the Need to Pretend There’s No Burden
Whether they’re saying it or not, your aging loved one is probably thinking about how much of a burden they are on you. No one likes being a burden to someone else, especially when declines in physical and mental health demand increasing attention from adult children or other caregivers. Feeling this way can lead to frustration and despair, making an already difficult situation even more so. And in the interest of supporting your aging loved one, you may do everything in your power to make them believe there’s no burden on your part.
The hard truth, though? Caring for someone you love can and does at times become burdensome. And the person needing care knows it, no matter how hard you try to hide it. Caregiving disrupts life routines, making an already busy lifestyle even more challenging. Pretending otherwise only adds to one’s sense of guilt for being needed.
With this new year’s new perspective, consider how it might be for the better to listen to your loved one and affirm what they already know to be true. Consider saying something that acknowledges the facts and still shares the feelings. Try explaining that while there may be times when their needs are a burden, you want to help them because you love them and feel
better when you do. Express that you don’t like feeling helpless and that helping them actually helps you.
Ultimately, the first step toward making a care transition with your loved one is honesty: a REAL conversation about what life is like for them and you. You can start by educating yourself on what your options may be, from independent to assisted living, short-term to long-term residency, and other solutions like in-home assistance or nursing care. The more you understand about all of these options, the more prepared you’ll be to discuss the realities with your aging loved one and make the best decision for both of you.
Getting a Clearer Picture of Senior Community Living
There are so many preconceived ideas and often misguided assumptions associated with certain types of living arrangements for seniors. So for lots of people, the idea of moving to a senior living community incites great apprehension about quality of life. As you research and discuss options with your loved one, be sure you’re avoiding these common misconceptions and acknowledging the many real benefits that can actually support an aging loved one in living a healthier, happier life.
At the top of that list is the experience of living in an environment surrounded by other members of their peer group who have had similar experiences and can help provide emotional support. Spending time with others, socializing, or participating in activities that are meaningful has been shown to benefit older adults emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Positive relationships are critical to our well-being, and their importance can't be minimized in this discussion.
In a community like UMH, where the focus is on a relationship-centered approach, every opportunity is taken to provide consistent caregiving teams that truly get to know the residents (who they are, what is important to them, and how they like to be cared for). In a place like this, it is finally okay to "let go of the burden" and become a partner in caring for your loved one, moving into a new phase of your caregiving relationship.
Life—and time with our loved ones—is too short and too precious to be wasted fretting about things we can't change. Instead, try to acknowledge the reality and plan for the future with a focus on meaning and quality living. For older adults who live in a community centered on meaningful activities, purposeful living, and positive relationships, they have access to what they need to truly thrive. And that’s a decision any caregiver can feel good about.
To find out how United Methodist Homes provides a wealth of offerings and opportunities to support the health and well-being of our residents, contact us today or schedule a complimentary visit now. For additional tips on senior health and lifestyle issues, check out our blog.