Ask any people who have aging parents, and they will tell you they never want to be in the position to put their parents in a nursing home. They know nursing homes are not dark dungeons where people get bread and water. They have seen some of the newer, more modern homes, and they don’t resemble the typical dreary misconceptions of a nursing home. So, why is the concept of placing a parent in a nursing home viewed so negatively?
Families will do almost anything and agree to almost anything to keep mother or father out of “the Home.” The words “Assisted Living” are more palatable, and there has been an increase in Assisted Living residences across the country. However, in most states including Illinois, Assisted Living residences can not provide the services offered in a nursing home that may be required.
With modern medicine like it is, people are living longer but not necessarily healthier. There has been an increase in case of dementia and Alzheimer’s, and these illnesses often require special placement to handle the needs of the parent. Alzheimer’s can take many paths from the easily-directed-pleasantly-confused to the agitated and combative. The agitated and combative person needs staff members with an understanding of the disease for everyone’s safety. Yet, there is guilt associated with pacing a family member in a nursing home.
In order to avoid the guilt, some families go to extremes. One woman was so opposed to mother going to a nursing home (even though her mother was in a coma and needed 24-hour care), she and her husband built a new house to accommodate the needs of her mother. As time went on, the wife could not handle the strain of the 24-hour care her mother required. In order to get relief, she took a part time job outside the home and hired a nurse to watch mother during her work hours. The woman still provided care for her mother the remaining house of the day in addition to caring for the house and family. The care of mother consumed this couple’s life and their marriage. The could not go on vacations and had no nights out. They had no guilt about mother’s care, but they had traded it for their own quality of life. This went on for years. To know a family struggling like this for long durations of time can help change thinking about a nursing home. Think how much different their lives would have been if they had looked closer at what a nursing home could offer.
Families have good intentions in taking in an aging parent who can no longer live alone. Unfortunately, the normal family’s home is not set up for aging, unless a lot of planning went into the design. Bathroom doors and other doorways are often not wide enough to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs. Showers and tubs are not handicapped accessible. Toilets may be too low and not have hand rails. Sometimes, even ranch style homes have a step or two to get in and out.
Just as the average home is not set up for an older person, neither is the normal family’s life. Often both people work and are away all day. This leaves the older parent home alone with no socialization. It is wonderful that families care so much to be willing to try to make the changes necessary to accommodate an aging parent and to avoid the guilt, but most families have to face the fact that no matter how much they care they just can’t always meet the needs of the older person in their current home and life.
Love is doing what is best for everyone. It’s doing what is needed, in spite of what’s wanted or what we think we should do. Nursing homes can provide the right setting, the right meals, round the clock care and social contact with peers and activities that keep loved ones stimulated. Overall, a well-chosen nursing home is the best decision to preserve the family and provide the best environment and care for most aging parents.
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