Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Deciding to Use a Nursing Home

The following blog entry is an excerpt from my book The Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving. Buy it now by clicking here!

The decision to place a loved one in a nursing home is always tough. We feel horrified by the options available to us. We feel guilty. We worry that the move will send our loved one into a tailspin. But when caring for a loved one at home requires more emotional and physical resources than you have available using a skilled nursing facility is sometimes the best decision. Consider the cost to everyone involved.

I once had a caregiver tell me that she had given up her career to take care of her mother and that in the course of caregiving she had become a virtual prisoner in her house. Her mother could not be left alone and the daughter could not find the paid help she needed. She had lost all her friends because she was never available to see them. She was unable to sleep because her mother would call for help several times a night, and she was losing her hair from worry and stress. There were very few workable options left but the caregiver hung on and on until the day she was diagnosed with a serious illness. Her doctor insisted that her mom be placed immediately.

All her life the mother had told her daughter “I’ll kill myself if you put me in a nursing home,” but within a few weeks she adjusted and eventually came to like her new caregivers and friends. My job shifted to consoling the caregiver for not doing it sooner.

The most loving option is to do what people need, not necessarily what they think they want. Keep in mind that placement is not the end of your caregiving career. The family caregiver can and should play an important role in providing the emotional, spiritual, and advocacy support the placed person needs to weather such a difficult transition in the best way possible. This shift in role begins the moment you start to prepare for making the move.

Preparing for Making the Move

Step 1. Prove the Need. What are the costs involved in keeping the patient at home? Is the patient’s safety at risk? Is a single caregiver being expected to meet all the patient’s needs at the risk of their own health and well-being? Are there community services or paid services available that are adequate to keep the patient at home?

Step 2. Involve the Family. The whole family needs to be in agreement about this decision as much as possible. Family meetings are hard to arrange when people live out of town or have busy schedules. It can be emotionally difficult to face the fears and guilt and sadness such a choice entails. But for the good of family relations an effort to communicate via telephone or email must be made. Let everyone express their feelings without attack. Decide as a group to put each person’s needs ahead of other people’s desires and make choices based on what’s best for all concerned. Ideally, the patient should be involved in this meeting but when dementia is fairly progressed that is not always the most prudent path. Also, if family members have differences of opinion which cannot be easily resolved it can be very helpful to do this kind of preplanning with an objective third party acting as facilitator.

Step 3. Talk to the Patient. This has got to be one of the hardest things to do. The ideal situation is to approach the patient with honesty and a clear explanation of the reasons why the family wants them to consider this option. If the patient has enough savvy to be able to make rational choices about their future include them in the decision-making process from the start. You may find that with enough advance preparation they may actually feel relieved that their needs and the needs of their family are being well thought about.

Sometimes, though, the demented relative completely forgets that any discussion took place or is too volatile to be included in the first place. In any case, the patient is likely to need (or demand) a chance to express their full feelings. Responses like “How could you do this to me?” or “I’d rather die than go to a nursing home” are expressions of fear and grief. It can be hard to be treated with such reproach but consider what you might need if you were in their shoes and reach for the most loving approach you can. Acknowledge the pain they are feeling as best you can, but resist letting yourself be guilt-tripped into making a choice that is simply not sustainable. Allowing your patient’s fear to run the show is not, in the long run, healthy for either one of you. Stay firm. Stay loving. Get help with the feelings that come up by talking to a counselor, a supportive family member or friend.

Step 4. Begin Your Search. Now it’s time to visit homes if you haven’t already. Get on waiting lists. Talk to your financial and legal advisors. Talk to your local senior service agencies to find out what kinds of complaints have been registered (if any) about the homes you are interested in. Take your time. Plan ahead if possible so you don’t have to make a swift decision from a limited number of choices. And keep in mind that in many parts of the country there is a shortage of space in local homes and waiting lists are the norm. The wait for MediCal or Medicare-paid beds can be even longer. You may need to expand your search for facilities to another county or even further away. The commute may be inconvenient, but the quality and price of the facility might be worth the ride. Be flexible. Be brave. Let go of finding the perfect situation and you’ll get what you need.

No comments: