Placing my family member in assisted living concerns me. Why Should I Even Consider Assisted Living?
One of the most difficult times for multigenerational family is when the safety and health of aging parent become questionable, and the topic of placing them into a care facility needs to be considered. However when Alzheimer’s rears its ugly head, then the debate moves from should we do this, to when will we do this?
The reason is this is a disease that is relentless, progressive, and completely unforgiving. Alzheimer’s affects the brain, and the brain controls literally everything; ability to walk, bowel and bladder control, speech and speech recognition, memory of course, emotions, impulse control, ability to reason, you name it, and this illness slowly impairs all of these functions. Providing care for this person requires the combined effort of several family members. Unfortunately the responsibility frequently falls on the shoulders of a single person.
A loved one, like you ,can commit yourself to providing for a person with this illness, and there is no doubt that you can do a good job of it for a while. But this disease will push through your limits eventually. I have met very few people that were able to sustain that care for the entire course of the illness without seriously damaging their own health through exhaustion and stress.
Often I meet family caregivers that put off the decision to turn care over to professionals too long and sadly it is only after a serious incident or close call. The risk of postponement is not only to the caregiver’s health, but also to the person that needs care. Caregivers are very self-sacrificing, but may not realize that their loved one is at greater risk in the middle and late stages of the illness, and care requires greater and greater knowledge and skill.
There are two good reasons why you should consider long-term care
The first argument for long-term care is that facilities are experienced at providing very specific care and stimulation that will slow cognitive decline and, just as importantly, slow physical decline. Research on dementia indicates that social interaction and stimulation as you would receive in a communal environment have a marked affect on preserving memory, social and verbal skills. For example facilities have Activities Directors who design calendars that to the average person seem simplistic and purposeless. But the opposite is true. Each activity has a therapeutic quality. Games like balloon volleyball and parachute toss use large muscle groups that maintain hand-eye coordination, prevent atrophy, muscle wasting and help seniors to maintain better balance and fall prevention, using these larger muscle groups even help bladder and bowel continence. Activities that involve manipulating objects with the hands like working with color matching blocks, or Legos, help fine motor movement, depth perception and reduce joint and arthritis related pain.
The second reason is, as the illness progresses, your parent/daughter (son) relationship becomes lost, you slowly stop being the concerned child who is helping your parent through a difficult time and become a full-time caregiver instead. Almost every interaction you have is providing care: making meals, changing clothes, giving showers, cleaning up “accidents”, re-directing the person away from dangerous or inappropriate behaviors, grooming…you rarely have time to just sit and visit with mom or dad, reminisce, ask questions, watch TV, and the other small things that defined your relationship. You in essence become the parent to your parent.
You may not realize that you have been doing the work of 5 or 6 people. No wonder you rarely had time to spend quality time with mom or dad. In assisted living they have a cooks to prepare meals, housekeepers to clean rooms, vacuum, dust, change linen, and do laundry, caregivers to help with showers, personal grooming, change diapers if necessary, medication technicians to prepare medications and giving them at the right times, and maintenance staff to hang pictures, change light bulbs, clean carpets etc. Therefore when your parent moves into a long-term care setting like assisted living or board and care, the facility takes over all these caregiving that you used to do, and you are now able to re-discover your relationship with your parent. You once again have time to just visit, take them out to lunch, etc. It’s a very liberating experience, and often a satisfying opportunity to spending quality time in the last months and years of their life.
It is important that you see a different view of assisted living. Please take time to read this 4 series report.