Managing your emotions after an assisted living placement is a complex process. When the choice is made to place a Dementia loved one in residential care, you’re likely to encounter an unsettling combination of feelings. It’s important to acknowledge and deal with these feelings because your adjustment to your loved one’s new lifestyle and surroundings will have a direct impact on their adjustment.
We’ve all heard this cliché, or something close to it: “The first step in dealing with a problem is admitting that a problem exists.” The reason we over-hear and over-use this expression so often in problem solving is, simply, that it’s true. When you build up a wall to shut issues out, you’re also barricading yourself from seeing solutions.
For your and your loved one’s benefit, a little perspective and a lot of positivity can help. For those who are dedicated to continuing the bond of caring for a Dementia loved one, there are ways to strategize the strife and turn your loved one’s new lifestyle into a surprising success.
Proteins, Plaques & Tangles… Your Kryptonite
We’d all like to be able to duck into a phone booth and re-emerge seconds later as Super Guardian, Support Giver of Steel. We’d like to be faster than a speeding wanderer, more powerful than paranoia and able to leap tall schedules in a single bound.
And while our superpowers are busy saving the world from sundowner’s syndrome, our alter ego will continue to thrive at work, get plenty of rest and exercise, find time to clean and manage the household and carve out some social, sanity-saving support time for ourselves. What’s more, we’ll be the perfect purveyors of all the physical, mental and safety care Dementia requires, around the clock. And, there will still be plenty of time leftover every day to appreciate and spend time with our loved one who’s been side-winded by Dementia. The problem is, Dementia seems to have its own super powers – shapeshifting and multiplying included. At times it can seem like we’re staving off a whole alternate universe of adversaries.
Dementia, a build up of proteins causing plaques and tangles in our loved one’s brain, is a Kryptonite of sorts that can render everyone close to it powerless.
Placing a loved one in residential Dementia care isn’t a surrender. It’s a change in strategy.
If you’ve placed your Dementia loved one into residential care, chances are it was a heart-wrenching choice, resulting from a lengthy period of declining health on your loved one’s part and declining ability to keep up with needed care on the home team’s part. The more progressed Dementia becomes, the more it requires hour to hour, even minute to minute, attention… to everything. From personal care to safety issues to doctor and therapy appointments to meal times and memory activities – along with, for many, the challenges of sundowning and some disheartening interactions.
At some point, the limitations of at-home Dementia care begin to outweigh the good stuff. Relationships we value can become strained and you’re probably neglecting some of your own health and wellness needs, too – which doesn’t help your efforts.
When you make the most of what residential Dementia care can offer, you’re not giving up on the person you love, nor are you giving up care. You’re simply strategizing a solution that can help you to focus on what’s dearest to you – the bond you share and the loving support you want to provide. In fact, placing a loved one into residential Dementia care can give all who are involved an opportunity to repair and strengthen relationships that have grown tense as now the deluge of moment to moment Dementia triage is out of the equation.
Some Commonly Experienced Emotions After an Assisted Living Placement
For this article, we’ll assume you’ve found your Dementia loved one a residential care facility that you’re comfortable and pleased with. The facility is clean, safe, homey, well-appointed and brimming with memory care and social activities. The staff is friendly, dedicated, attentive and professional. Logistics of medication management and meals are well-organized. Personal care needs are attended to. All the boxes are checked. It’s time to get down to emotions.
Where to start?
Because you’re human, you’re going to be feeling all kinds of human things – both positive and negative. And chances are, some of the positive feelings are going to make you feel negative because they’re accompanied by a sense of guilt for feeling positive. If this sounds familiar, it’s because you’re not alone by a longshot.
Negative feelings can stem from:
- A strained relationship that developed prior to residence placement
- Concern over your loved one’s safety and happiness
- A sense that you’ve shirked a responsibility
- The determination to give care back to a person who has cared for you
- Feeling that you’ve disappointed family members and your loved one’s friends
- Feeling that you’ve broken a promise to someone you care deeply for
- Wanting to protect your Dementia loved one and wanting to control or have ownership over all aspects of their environment
- A sense of loss after having devoted so much time to being a primary caregiver
- Missing having your Dementia loved one at home
- Disappointment over a perceived failure on your part (otherwise known as recognizing your human limitations)
And this biggie:
- Acknowledgment of the fact Dementia is progressing
There are a few positive feelings as well:
- You might feel a sense of relief that your Dementia loved one is in a facility that’s designed and staffed to look over their physical and safety needs around the clock. You’ll probably even sleep better.
- You might be pleased, when visiting, to see your loved one immersed in memory care activities and receiving positive attention from residents and staff.
- You’ll likely find that with basic care needs being seen to, you can once again focus on enjoying time with your Dementia loved one.
- You might find you can renew social relationships you haven’t kept up with.
- You might have a bit of carefree fun or just enjoy a little downtime.
- You may finally be able to make a few doctor appointments of your own.
Don’t feel guilty over having positive feelings. Guilt-wallowing makes poor use of time and isn’t what your loved one would want for you – Dementia or no Dementia. It’s possible that visiting your loved one may provoke more guilt than pleasure at first. He or she may seem angry or confused. They may act out in new and surprising ways. After all, they’re human too. But their adjustment isn’t insurmountable.
Turning negative emotions into inspired action: “With great power, comes great responsibility.”**
You are, indeed, not powerless. In fact, the more positive action you take on behalf of your loved one, the more he or she, along with your inter-personal relationship, can benefit. Below are some actionable, and hopefully enjoyable, ideas:
- Visit your loved one and bring a favorite edible treat or some flowers (non-toxic) they’ll enjoy. Bring something fun each time you visit.
- Participate in an activity with your loved one. Join in a game or a craft session. Get to know the people around them.
- Take your loved one out for a walk.
- Talk and listen to your loved one. Wherever the conversation goes (or stops and repeats), if they’re enjoying it, stay with the flow.
- Read to your loved one or look at a picture book together.
- Share music with them.
- Bring plenty of hugs and smiles.
- If you have concerns, don’t confuse or upset your loved one with them. Do; however, speak to staff or management.
- Advocate. Participate.
A residential care facility is more than your loved one’s new home. It’s a service that you’ve hired. Don’t be shy about speaking up. A good residential care facility will want to hear and address your concerns.
- Learn about what a program has to offer. Take part in helping to select activities that can enhance your loved one’s memory care and daily lifestyle. You’ve got the benefit of perspective now. You’ve taken a step back and you can really be an informed and devoted advocate.
- Let your loved one’s caregivers know who your loved one is. You have a little time on your hands. Make a short video that shows them in their pre-Dementia life. Illustrate their interests, personality and accomplishments through photos or samples of their former work. The more caregivers get to know a Dementia patient, the more they come to see the whole person inside.
- Ask questions. Staff and management can offer valuable insight. They might suggest ways to make your visiting time even more enjoyable.
- Offer general feedback and input and let staff and management know when you’re pleased with what they’re doing.
- Take advantage of support services. Many residential facilities offer support groups for the families of their residents. Those that don’t provide it in-house should have information available about local support services recommended by staff and other residents’ families.
- Take advantage of opportunities to learn about Dementia. Understanding the disease itself can help give you perspective, not only on your loved one’s condition, but on the vital role you can fill.
- Volunteer to start a support or Dementia education group.
If you’re considering transitioning your Dementia loved one into residential care, please reach out to us. We’re happy to answer your questions and assist you in whatever way we can.