We live in an age where we, as baby boomers are put in the role of caring for our elderly parents. Technology and medical advances have, in many instances, extended the lives of human beings. However, the extension of life does not necessarily equate to the extension of health. As our parents age, they are increasingly vulnerable, unable to make decisions easily, require assistance in caring for themselves and have difficulty keeping up their home. Parents used to be our caregivers, but now the roles are reversing and many of us are now caring for our elderly parents. At the outset of their declining health, we want to keep them at their homes where they are comfortable. And, typically, they want to stay in their familiar surroundings. So, we make arrangements to give them the care that they want. But, when is it time to make the decision that home caregiving by the family can no longer be sustained and it is time for assisted living? This, of course, depends on the family and the health of the parents. Eventually, though, it won’t be a single incident or a long discussion with other family members. Something inside of caregivers will say “it’s time.”
Family caregivers go through a range of emotions and stress when taking care of parents in need. The family usually makes the decision to keep the loved ones at home and work together to take care of them. But, this type of caregiving takes a lot of coordination and can be very time-consuming, particularly if there is only one caregiver. Your everyday life is turned upside down and caregiving can put a strain on your marriage, your relationship with your own children and your finances. In addition, if you have siblings that are not helping (or think they are but really aren’t), this puts a strain on your relationship with them. You become resentful because your siblings continue to lead their normal lives and you, either by choice or by process of elimination, are shouldering the “burden.”
Then there’s the guilt. The guilt of being angry at your parents because you have to tell your spouse and children you can’t do something with them because you have to tend to your parents. The guilt of wanting to move to another state, but you can’t leave your parents and you resent them for not being able to move. The guilt of being impatient around your parents and lashing out at them with frustration. And the guilt of feeling like you are a failure at taking care of them and that the care you give them is not adequate.
We all have our limits. You will know deep down when you have hit your limit because you can no longer physically or emotionally care for your parents. Whether you are caring for them in their home or if they have moved into your home, you will know. You will get to the point where their physical or mental needs are not being met by you. They might be falling frequently, or their dementia has gotten to the point where they need constant medical attention. You always told yourself that it is in their best interests to keep them at their home or your home, but now you are realizing that their best interests are with full time assistance from professionals. You may have promised them over and over again that you will take care of them and you will never put them in a “home.” But their age and health has come to the point where they either need assisted living or need full time professional care at home. Depending on their finances, full time home care may not be an option. Guilt, stress, strain, finances, promises, other alternatives – these are all considerations that must be dealt with when making the decision that your parents will be better off in assisted living. And once you have made peace with the fact that you can no longer do it and that they will be best served by professionals, a small voice will come from within and tell you “it’s time.”