Is it Time for Long-Term Care?

Making the decision to Put a Loved One
Into Long-Term Care

Older man dancing in long-term careA woman who follows my blog wrote to me a few days ago and asked, “How do you know when it’s time to put a loved one into long-term care?”

She is concerned for her sister who is taking care of her husband with Alzheimer’s Disease.  She said her sister is suffering with a number of her own physical ailments, which are being compounded by the emotional stress of caring of her husband who has forgotten, among other things, that he needs to use a toilet when he urinates. Sometimes he recognizes his wife and knows how she fits into his life; sometimes he has to ask who she is. The woman who wrote to me is concerned that the physical and emotional strain of caregiving might take her sister’s life before her brother-in-law dies.

I do NOT think that keeping a person in their own home is always the best solution. I believe people with dementia benefit from socialization, activities and the around-the clock care that is provided in long-term care communities.  I also believe caregivers benefit, because taking care of someone who is in the mid to advanced stages of dementia requires constant vigilance to insure the care receiver doesn’t harm himself or anyone else.

Although professional staff in long-term communities also experience a great amount of physical and emotional stress, they do get to take breaks.  They go home at the end of their shift, and they get days off.  A family caregiver gets no relief unless her spouse is enrolled in an adult day-care program or she has family, friends, or professional help coming to the house.

When a loved one is living in a long-term care community, it allows the caregiver to maintain his/her role as a spouse, child or sibling. Caregivers can visit often. They can have meals together and engage in activities such as singing and dancing. They can bring a little happiness into the life of the care receiver every time they visit. They can manage their own health and still make sure that their loved one is safe and getting the appropriate level of care.

That said, there are great differences in the quality and cost of care, and this is not a decision that should be made lightly. Over the course of the next several days I’m going to be sharing information from my “Ducks in a Row” program that I originally developed to help people get prepared to take over the care of aging parents. I will cover everything from starting difficult conversations to completing the must-have end-of-life documents.

None of these topics are fun or easy, but getting our “Ducks in a Row” before a crisis hits can help us control how our healthcare, finances and possessions will be managed throughout the final stages of our lives. If we are willing to make decisions ahead of time about long-term care and end-of-life wishes, it could end up being one of the most loving and generous gifts we will ever give our families.