When Should You Put Your Elderly Parent in a Home?

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By Diane Gorgy

This question crossed my mind as my 86 year old mother was talking about her 93 year old sister. She stopped driving at 90 after an accident which involved hitting the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal, and was totally dependent on others for her needs outside of the home.

She had limited mobility and used a walker, so others had to maintain the house.  At a recent family gathering, her daughter-in-law said that she belonged in a “home”.  The family was shocked, and, of course, my aunt didn’t want to go into a “home”.

When is the appropriate time to put someone in a “home”?  My good friend faced this decision a few years ago with his mother.  She had advanced stage Alzheimer’s, was incontinent, lacked bowel control, and needed help for even basic needs.  After several years of caring for her, my friend was stressed out, depressed by the lack of support from his family, and had developed Afib.

He had retired a few months before moving his mother from her home in Pennsylvania to his home in New Jersey.  Over the course of time, her physical and mental health deteriorated.  His mother also never wanted to be put in a “home”, my friend was reluctant to put her in one.  Every morning, he would get her out of bed, undress and shower her.  

He dressed her and brushed her teeth, tested her blood sugar, fed her breakfast, gave her the morning medications, and sat her in front of the television while he washed her pajamas, bed linens, towels and clothes and wiped down any walls or surfaces that she had soiled.  By the time he was done with the morning routine, it was lunch time and he prepared a sandwich and beverage for her.  He took her to the bathroom, cleaned her after she went, and changed her diapers.  After lunch, he could possibly do some paperwork, including managing her finances and bills. 

Later on in the day, he fed her dinner, gave her the night-time medications, got her into her pajamas and into bed.    He went without help for over a year before hiring a part-time aide so that he could take care of things outside the house such as grocery shopping and his own doctor visits.

One day, his mother became very ill with bronchitis and early-stage pneumonia, and she was hospitalized.  She was discharged to a rehab facility for physical therapy, but was weak and unable to stand up or walk on her own.  It was then that my friend realized he needed to look for other living arrangements for his mother after her discharge.

Fortunately, he started to look for places for his mother at this stage rather than waiting until something happened that would require an immediate need to place her in an extended care facility.  He started his research with a list of what he wanted: a facility she could afford on her combined pension, social security and savings; a local facility so that he could visit frequently; and a facility where she could have her own room.  He found a place that met all of his criteria and was able to move his mother in shortly after her discharge from rehab. 

My friend’s mother has lived at the Senior Living Facility for nearly two years.  Everything my friend was doing to care for her is now done by the staff at the facility.  When he goes to visit her, he can relax and enjoy the time he spends with her.  He is happier, and she is happier.

So, the question, for many people my age, is at what point do you place your parent in a “home”?  I believe the time is when the support required to sustain the parent becomes too much for the child/children to manage, either emotionally or physically.  The ability to provide care is based on the individual caregiver’s abilities and the level of support from family and friends, so it really is a personal choice.

Diane retired at the end of 2015, after looking forward to retirement for many years.  Both of her children had graduated from college, moved out of the family home and were gainfully employed.  She sold her house in Northern New Jersey and purchased a townhouse in a coastal area in Southern New Jersey.  However, as she and many of her friends found out, while they can finally look forward to their children becoming independent; their parent/parents are becoming more dependent and they are once again being pulled into the role of caretaker.

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