Considering a Nursing Home for a Loved One? What to Know

by The Candid Caregiver

The people we love and care for often reach a point where we can no longer be sole care providers and we need to look at options. This is painful, because up to this point we’ve likely been partners in their care but haven’t had to make forceful decisions. Now, things have changed. Because so many people have a negative view of nursing homes, the idea of going to a care facility terrifies many older people and being the person to make this decision can be agony.

Woman talking to her senior relative.

Where do we start in our search for options?

If we were proactive, we’ve already discussed the choices for living arrangements our loved ones would have made for themselves under differing circumstances, however many people haven’t done this. Either way, we move forward. We need to consider whether aging-in-place is a realistic choice, with in-home care agencies providing care, or if our loved one will be safer living in a nursing home. Understand that even if you had the conversation earlier, you may have to go against their wishes.

Senior using a walker to get around his home.

Benefits of aging at home

Many older people are drawn to the idea of aging in their own homes, or aging-in-place as it’s often known. This can be workable for people who don’t have healthcare needs that require around-the-clock availability of nursing care, or else for someone who has access to hired in-home care that is reliable. The pros of aging-in-place include remaining in a familiar environment, not having to give up long treasured possessions, and the privacy and independence of owning one’s own living space.

Seniors playing cards at a nursing home.

Benefits of a moving to a nursing home

The main reason for moving to a nursing home is that the person who needs care requires medical care, expert care in lifting or transferring, and other types of care that are hard or impossible to do at home. The other major perk is socialization, which is part of living in a good care facility. Those who choose to age at home, or who have no other choice, are often isolated. Isolation can cause loneliness and loneliness can kill. Communal living can help alleviate chronic loneliness.

Stressed out man.

Your own health: Are you close to burning out?

Often, choosing to hire some type of outside help, whether in-home or facility care, is as important for the caregiver’s health and wellbeing as it is for their care partner. If the caregiver is under too much emotional, physical, or psychological stress – or a combination of all three – there is a high risk of becoming burned out. Crossing the line from caregiver stress to caregiver burnout can mean that your own health is in such decline that you can no longer be an effective care partner.

Stressed out middle age woman.

A sole caregiver can only do so much

Caregivers have a tendency to feel that only they can provide the best care for the person whom they love. To some degree, this may be true. You know your loved one’s preferences and quirks, and your loved one is comforted by your presence. However, as mentioned previously, a sick or burned-out caregiver can’t help anyone, and a caregiver who tries to do it all long-term is likely to burn out. Nearly all of us eventually need help, and often that help comes in the forum of a nursing home.

Middle age woman talking to her parent.

Making peace with breaking the sacred promise

If you promised your loved one that you will never put them in a nursing home you may have to break that promise. If your loved one’s health becomes so compromised that skilled nursing home care is the only option, then that’s what you will have to do. It will help if you understand that while nursing homes are far from perfect, in most cases they are acceptable, and in some communities, they are exceptional. You will still be part of the care team and you will be your loved one’s advocate.

Stressed out man.

Putting guilt in its place

Many of us feel that we’ve failed if we have to place our loved one in a nursing home. This is not true, but we still can’t help feeling guilty. Sadly, some of this guilt is thrown at us from other caregivers who’ve made different decisions because they’ve had different situations. Ignore them. This is unearned guilt which seems to be an integral part of caregiving. Remember: you are still a caregiver but your role has changed. Now your biggest responsibility is to be your loved one’s advocate.

Woman crying.

Allow yourself to feel your grief

The grief that you feel while preparing to move your loved one to a nursing home is normal. Because I was responsible for the care of multiple elders, I had no choice but to use the services of a wonderful nursing home nearby. Yet each time another family member needed to be moved to this nursing home, I grieved, so I do understand. Feel the grief and then move forward. This is part of preparing for the ultimate grief that you’ll experience as their life, as all of ours must, comes to an end.

Caregiver and his senior father.

The ultimate decision rests on safety

Often, the safety of both the care receiver and the caregiver is the ultimate decider. If you’ve reached a point that you can no longer transfer your loved one to bed, or if he finds ways to slip out of the house unnoticed, then it’s likely that staying in the home is no longer a safe choice. Also, at times, home care is no longer safe for the caregiver. This could be because of your own chronic health issues, or because the person you are caring for has a cognitive issue that make him violent.

Happy senior in a nursing home.

The takeaway

Accepting that we can’t provide all of the necessary care our loved one needs can produce feelings of failure and guilt for a person who has dedicated so much to being a caregiver. We know that we’ll have less control over the care of our loved ones once they’ve moved to a care facility, and that can feel like giving up. Understand that you aren’t giving up. If the move to a nursing home is necessary for safety and care of your loved one, or for your own wellbeing, then it’s the right move.

The Candid Caregiver
Meet Our Writer
The Candid Caregiver

The Candid Caregiver (TCC) is a safe place for all caregivers, of any condition area or caregiving level, to go for candid yet professional guidance. Questions will be answered, tough topics will be discussed, and the caregivers will ultimately have a place where they, themselves, feel cared for. No topics are off the table. Ask your questions and share your stories on social media using the hashtag #TheCandidCaregiver. TCC's lead caregiver and author is Carol Bradley Bursack, a veteran family caregiver with more than two decades of experience.