How to Deal with Guilt Over Moving a Loved One to Assisted Living

Elderly care

Families make decisions to move a senior loved one into an assisted living facility for many reasons. Sometimes the senior makes the decision for themselves, while other times they are resistant to the change. Either way, it’s common for family members to feel guilt over the move.

Common Reasons for Guilt When Moving Someone to Assisted Living

Amanda Lambert, a certified caregiver and co-author of “Aging with Care: Your Guide to Hiring and Managing Caregivers at Home,” notes that guilt can arise because many seniors may voice a preference for wanting to age at home rather than making a move to a senior living community. “Families feel guilty,” says Lambert, “because they feel like they are giving up or are not able or willing to provide enough care at home to keep a loved one safe.”

Author and licensed therapist Heidi McBain agrees, adding that family members may also feel guilt if a move to an assisted living community means that their relative will be far away from loved ones.

Many times, adult children have made promises to keep aging parents in the home, says Lynette Whiteman, of Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey. But that’s not always possible or safe. “When they have to break this promise,” says Whiteman, “They feel like failures and bad children.”

Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a licensed psychologist in Colorado, sums all of these reasons up with one statement: “It’s easy to feel guilty over moving a loved one into assisted living because it can feel like you’re abandoning them.”

Assisted Living is Often the Right Choice

It’s important to remember that feelings of guilt don’t necessarily equate to a bad decision. In many cases, a move to an assisted living community may actually improve quality of life for a loved one.

“There is no level of guilt avoidance that is worth the risk of compromising safety,” says Jonathan Marsh, owner of senior care company Home Helpers of Bradenton. Marsh points out that safety is a two-way street, and that caregivers have to consider whether they can safely provide for a senior relative in either the senior’s home or their own home.

“If an individual tries to keep their loved one at home, he or she must ensure that it is safe to do so both for their loved ones as well as for themselves,” says Marsh. “Many individuals run themselves ragged trying to keep loved ones out of assisted living at the expense of their own health.”

Assisted living communities remove some burden from caregivers while providing ample safety benefits to seniors. Fisher notes that staff at these communities can help with making sure a senior loved one takes any needed medications, providing social and recreational activities and ensuring proper meals and nutrition.

Lambert, who helped her own parents move into an assisted living recently, provides a list of additional benefits seniors may experience in such communities:

  • Increased socialization can improve mood and cognition and reduce loneliness.
  • On-demand transportation options can help keep seniors stay mobile.
  • In-house medical services may improve your loved one’s overall health.

Tips for Coping with the Guilt

The first step to coping with feelings of guilt when moving a loved one into an assisted living community is realizing that you’re making a good decision. According to the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL), more than 835,000 people live in assisted living communities nationwide. Many only require some help with activities of daily living, which means they can continue to live independently and safely otherwise — even with chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, diabetes or depression.

An assisted living community provides a balance between getting necessary daily help and independence, often lengthening the time someone can remain out of a skilled nursing facility. According to the NCAL, the average stay in an assisted living community is almost two years, after which about 60 percent of residents transition to a nursing home.

Lambert says that in addition to knowing you did the right thing and focusing on the benefits assisted living has to offer, staying in touch with your loved one can also go a long way toward alleviating feelings of guilt. “Keep a close eye on how things are going,” she says. “Check in with the nurse, wellness director and executive director. Check in with your loved one and get their honest opinion about how things are going. Stay patient. Expect things may be rocky at first.”

Lambert stresses that staying in touch is critically important to your loved one’s successful transition to assisted living. “If you live in the same town, visit once a week for dinner,” Lambert says. “This shows that you care — and seniors love showing off family in the dining room. If you live too far away, use Skype, call and email frequently. Visit whenever possible.”

In addition to staying in contact and ensuring that the transition is as positive as possible for your loved one, here are some other tips for coping with guilt after moving someone into assisted living.

  • McBain suggests developing a relationship with a specific contact person at the community so you have a person you trust and can talk to when you’re worried or have issues.
  • Whiteman says to remember that an assisted living community can actually increase your loved one’s social interaction. They can “make new friendships, feel connected to others and actually enjoy life more,” he notes.
  • Fisher says that the transition period can be the hardest on both the senior and their family; be patient and give positive results time to show up. Transitioning a senior out of an assisted living community almost as soon as you move them in due to guilt can actually cause more problems.
  • Marsh recommends planning ahead. Considering assisted living options before an immediate need arises gives families and seniors more time to tour communities and make the best decisions for themselves. Knowing that you made a careful decision helps alleviate feelings of inadequacy or guilt.

Helping a loved one transition into an assisted living community doesn’t mean you give up on them. It simply means that they are taking the next step in their lives — a step that is often the right choice and one that can lead to a more positive, healthy lifestyle for both seniors and their family caregivers.

Staying in contact, continuing to act as an advocate for your loved one and ensuring the community sees to your family member’s needs are all ways you can remain an important part of his or her life – without the guilt.


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