When to Move an Elderly Parent Into a Senior Residence Facility

How do we know when the right time has come to move my aging father-in-law out of our home and into a professionally staffed nursing facility? He's been living with me and my husband for the past couple of years. I don't want to abandon him just when his need is greatest, but recently I've begun to feel as if I'm at the end of my rope.

The decision to move an aging loved one into a nursing home may be one of the most difficult you will ever make. In fact, it’s common for adult children to vow that they will never subject a parent to “that kind of place.” They may be sincere, but it’s impossible to see the future or to predict the circumstances that are likely to influence the choices that lie ahead. So give yourself some grace. Heart-searching goes with the territory, but don’t torment yourself with guilt.

Here’s the main question you need to consider as you approach this fork in the road: does your father-in-law need rehabilitation or specialized supervision – the kind of care that is available only in a professionally administered facility? If so, it’s in his best interests that you get him into a nursing home as soon as possible.

If this is not your situation, but you are still finding it difficult to provide the hands-on care the patient requires – if you’re feeling emotionally drained, chronically tired, and, as you put it, “at the end of your rope” – then maybe it’s time to bring in some outside help so that you can get the respite you need while continuing to keep your father-in-law in your home.

At some point you’re going to have to face the facts and acknowledge your own limitations. Caring for an aging loved one is tough work. By the time a senior is ready to enter a nursing home, he is usually dealing with multiple health problems. Quite often he needs assistance when eating, moving from bed to chair, bathing, taking medications, dressing, and using a toilet. At times, an aging person can make your job even harder by being irritable, demanding or angry. If you don’t have a good support system and don’t get enough rest and help, you’ll quickly become a prime candidate for mental and physical problems of your own. It’s no wonder that caregiver burnout is one of the main reasons a family eventually places an elderly loved one in a 24-hour-a-day nursing facility.

If you feel you may have reached this point, it’s crucial to seek out the help of friends, relatives, siblings, your church, and local community-based organizations. It’s also important to take a very serious look at your options. If your father-in-law needs round-the-clock specialized care and is not satisfied with home and community-based services, it may be time to discuss the possibility of nursing home placement.

As you begin your search for the right nursing home, you will need to know what kinds of facilities are available in your area. Ask your father-in-law’s doctor for a good recommendation or contact your local
Area Agency on Aging for a list. Call local churches for the names of reputable facilities associated with a particular denomination. Ask your friends if they know people who have stayed in local nursing homes. Look for a place that’s reasonably close to your home. Visit several facilities and compare them. Call administrators and ask basic questions about what they consider the strengths and weaknesses of their operations. Walk around, talk to residents and ask to see the living units. Try to choose a nursing home that maximizes independence and morale while providing safety, comfort and the right level of health care.

For additional help and information on this topic, we’d encourage you to consult the resources and referrals highlighted below. Or if you have relationship concerns and challenges associated with this situation, please don’t hesitate to call our Counseling Department.


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Caring for Aging Parents

Caregiver Action Network

National Association of Area Agencies on Aging

Caring for Ill or Aging Parents

Elderly Care

Discussing Your Medical Wishes: A Patient’s Guide

Making Medical Decisions for a Loved One: A Caregiver’s Guide

When a Nursing Home Must Be Considered

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