Caregiver Transitions: Helping the Caregiver Claim a New Role
If you’ve been caring for an elderly parent for any length of time, there’s a good chance that role has become all-encompassing, says Sandra West, executive director of Harbor Point at Centerville. After all, caregiving tends to consume your thoughts and your time, leaving room for little else.
When your loved one moves to a senior living community, it’s a game-changer for your whole family. But it doesn’t mean that you’ve been replaced, or that your input is no longer needed. It simply signals that you’re allowing the community to come alongside you as a trusted care partner.
“When you share the role of caring for an elderly parent with us, we’re able to take the heavy lifting and leave you with the good parts,” affirms West.
In other words, you’re free to redefine the parameters of your relationship — and to resume the role of adult child.
“You can visit with your mom, stay for wine and cheese, and go, and you don’t have to worry that the phone is going to ring at two in the morning,” says West. “You get to spend quality time enjoying your loved one in a way that’s meaningful.”
In order to facilitate these kinds of meaningful visits in a time of transition, West suggests setting flexible expectations about frequency of contact. You may want to visit every day, once a week, or less often. It’s important to do whatever is comfortable for you and your loved one at this stage. “Every family and resident is different,” says West. “There is no absolute right or wrong.” A good community will support your visits, particularly as your loved one adjusts to their new home.
A Daughter’s Story
Before her 90-year-old father moved into memory care at Benchmark Senior Living on Clapboardtree, Karen was at her wit’s end. She could no longer handle caring for an elderly parent at home, and a negative experience at another facility had left her feeling hopeless about their future prospects. Karen explains, “As soon as I brought him to the first facility, they told me to stay away for a week so he could get used to the place,” she says.
It didn’t take long to figure out that this particular facility was not the right fit for her father. He kept crying and asking when he could go home, and he would stay in bed all day long. Whenever he would try to get up, he would fall down. Soon, he ended up in the hospital.
It was clear to Karen that they needed a better solution. So when her dad was released from the hospital, she found a new home for him at the Benchmark memory care community in Norwood, MA. Thankfully, this experience has been a complete 180 from their first foray into assisted living.
“People at Benchmark treat my dad like he’s their grandfather,” says Karen. “It’s made the transition so much easier.”
The first week, the community made sure someone was with her dad 24 hours a day. Karen received several text messages throughout the day saying, “Dad is doing good. You can relax,” which made Karen feel comfortable about, “re-entering her world without guilt.”
The staff also encouraged him to get up and leave his room. Now, he has a favorite chair in the community living room, where he can choose to engage with the people and activities around him. Plus, when Karen visits — which is recommended — she says that every staff member greets her warmly and helps her feel connected to the community. When she can’t be there, the community sends her text messages with kind words and photos, letting her know how her dad is doing each day.
Karen says that this loving, compassionate, human touch has helped her father make a successful transition to senior living. And it’s provided her with peace of mind, knowing that her dad is OK.
“I’ve been sleeping well because I feel like they really are taking care of him,” she says.
Adjusting to your new normal
Clearly, there is a great deal of freedom that comes when a compassionate team is managing your loved one’s care. This allows you to create a “new normal,” says West, with routines that suit your family best.
To help you make a successful transition, she suggests asking yourself what things you will enjoy again after you relinquish the role of caring for an elderly parent. Perhaps you’ll be able to spend more time with your spouse or children, refocus on your career or just take a much-needed rest.
Whatever you choose, it’s important to fill the empty space with people and activities that help you adjust to this new stage. And remember, you are still your loved one’s advocate, an irreplaceable part of their life. “You’re still active in decision-making and in guiding the health and welfare of your loved one,” says West. “That doesn’t go away.”
If you’re just starting this journey, consider taking this 5-minute survey to assess your situation and determine whether it’s the right time for senior living for you or your loved one.