When your parent moves into long-term care

How do you feel now that your parent has been transitioned to a long-term care/nursing home? You probably do not have a short answer to that question. While their physical care and well-being is now being taken care of by others, your concerns, worries, and your caregiving mind and heart don’t go out the door with your parent’s suitcase.

The adjustment period

Some people in your life may not understand the fact that your job as a caregiver has not ended, even though your parent has been placed into a long-term care home or another formal care facility. You likely still carry them in your mind and heart and you may also continue to be involved as a caregiver with advocacy and support activities. You are likely experiencing a range of feelings from relief to loneliness or even feeling at loose ends. You may be surprised about the range of feelings and thoughts that arise.

It is quite natural to go back in your mind and review your caregiving experiences and your relationship with your parent. Such a review and self-reflection can help you identify and let go of any feelings of guilt or any other self-critical judgements. It can also be a time for honouring yourself and all that you have done as a caregiver.

It is also helpful to take note of any resistance you may be experiencing: resistance to this new chapter, resistance to the fact that the health of your parent has declined, or resistance to handing over caregiving responsibilities and activities to others.

Coping with guilt

You may feel guilty about placing your parent into a long-term care home, and/or you may feel guilty about not feeling guilty – talk about a no-win situation! Guilt serves no one. Letting go of guilt serves both you and your parent.

Coping with guilt starts with letting go of any resistance to the present situation and letting go of suffering. When we resist reality, we suffer. It hurts to argue with reality and reality wins every time. To help let go of your guilt, bring logical thinking to the forefront. It is impossible to be placed into a long-term care facility if the person does not need 24 hour supervision and medical care. The staff in these facilities work 8 or 12 hour shifts around the clock. Remember that as a caregiver, you had been working 24 hour shifts and your parent simply needs more care and supervision now than any one person can provide.

There continues to be a need to beat the self-care drum. You may now have more breathing space to tend to your own wellbeing. Your caregiving to date may have taken its toll on your mental, emotional, and physical health. What nourishes you? What fills you up? What is the kindest thing you could do for yourself right now? What is the kindest thing you could say to yourself right now? Take the time to take care of yourself.

Visiting your parent

Visiting can help you cope with the guilt — most nursing homes have visiting hours so you can plan when you’ll see your parent. Staff at the facility should be able to tell you when they have the most energy, so you can plan your trips around the times they’re feeling their best. You may also want to ask yourself:

  • What will your caregiving and support look like now that your parent has moved into a long-term care home?
  • What is going to work for you? Will you visit daily? Every other day? Once a week?  
  • Will you solicit help from others with either a visiting schedule or drives to the facility?
  • How will you balance your desire to continue to provide care and support with your own self-care and social needs?
  • Will you send cards or e-mails? Have regular phone calls or video calls? Mail letters or share photos?

As with much of caregiving, there isn’t a “right” answer to these questions. Only you can answer these questions for yourself. Recognizing how you’re feeling and realizing that you’re only human is an important part of coping with the guilt and emotions you’re feeling. While it can be difficult, you can adjust and cope with this transition.

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