Facing Guilt When Parents Need Long Term Care

Long term care is not something most people think about until they or a loved one needs it. More often than not, the need occurs during a medical or family crisis.

In 25 years of working in home health care, I’ve come across families dealing with this crisis time and time again. While every situation is different, there is a common theme that tends to come up in most, which is: “I can’t put my parents in a nursing home. I should be able to take care of them myself and promised that I always would.”

Guilt can be tough to face, but sometimes it can also be a roadblock to getting the best care for our loved ones.

I was faced with that exact situation from the daughter of one of our home care patients. “Sally” had been caring for her parents for the past 10 years but their decline had been gradual and she had help from family who lived just a few miles away. When her brother developed cancer and his wife had to tend to his needs, Sally managed until her father’s dementia escalated. One night, he wandered out in the cold in his pajamas. Fortunately, her teenage son was up late and intervened before he got very far.

After that incident, Sally bought a baby monitor so she could hear her parents from her bedroom, but her anxiety over a potential wandering episode kept her from getting any quality sleep. She found herself waking up every few hours to check on him, which in turn led to some very tired days. One morning she gave her father a double dose of his medication. As soon as she discovered her mistake, she called the doctor. It didn’t cause any ill effects but she knew she had to do something.

When I met with Sally, she felt terrible guilt and berated herself for not being able to manage his care on her own. Maybe you or someone you know has felt that way, too. Trust me, unless you have super powers, it’s very difficult to face alone and is absolutely OK to seek help.

Sometimes a nursing home is the right option, but there are many other options available. For Sally, a nursing home wasn’t the right fit. But her father qualified for PASSPORT, a Medicaid program through the Department on Aging that provides long term nursing aide services right in the home.

After the referral, I could see an almost immediate relief come over Sally. She no longer felt the burden of her parents’ world on her shoulders alone.

Part of my job is to counsel caregivers; to help them find the best solutions for their loved ones, and sometimes, help them through their own feelings that may be keeping them from care options. If you or someone you know is feeling the pressure of caring for a loved one alone, let them know that help is available. From support groups to long term care options, there are services available to help them through it.

If your loved one needs home care assistance or palliative care, please visit www.promedica.org/connectedcare to learn about your options.