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November 28, 2012

Dealing with the stress of aging parents

It is a life event you probably never believed would really happen: the time for a parent to be institutionalized. If you thought about your parents aging at all, you probably assumed they would be healthy until the day they died. Instead, you have watched with dismay as your father or mother has grown sick, frail, unsteady and, in some cases, confused.

You have probably exercised every option before deciding to place your parent in a nursing home. You have checked on him (or her) every day. You have bought groceries and cooked meals. You have driven him to multiple doctor’s appointments, arranged for and picked up prescriptions. You have enlisted in-home health aides who visit a few times per week.

Now, these efforts are no longer enough. So, you need to do what is best for him, and you realize that means placing him in a nursing facility. The stress of that decision, and the resulting difficult and overwhelming process can literally cause you to be ill.

First, there is the guilt. You may feel that you should take your parent into your home and care for him yourself. You experience these feelings even though your family may be overcrowded in your home, and you have a full-time job that would prevent you from giving the necessary daily care. The conflict between the feeling of “I should” and the reality that “I can’t” eat away at you emotionally.

Then, once the decision is made, you need to deal with choosing the proper nursing home facility. Which is best? Does he belong in “assisted living” or “personal care”? Is this a quality facility where he will receive all the professional care he will need? After hearing horror stories about nursing homes, how can I be certain the staff will really care about him and treat him with dignity? In addition to health care issues, you will need to address financial ones. What can your parent afford? What happens if he has few assets? What if the funds dwindle? Will he have to sell his home?

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