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To many of us with aging parents, it seems like the worst thing we can do would be to put them in an assisted living home. It feels like we are betraying them for all the long hours, sleepless nights and the dirty diapers. It feels like we would be ignoring the cleaned house and meticulously prepared meals we scarcely appreciated as teenagers. Are we giving up on the only thing that has been solid throughout our entire lives; mom and dad? Or, can Assisted living also mean assisted loving?
Whether a mother or a father, they are people that have been rock solid through our lives. They help us even as they run low on ability and eventually need help themselves. To take that next step can be the hardest pill to swallow. It can leave us with unending guilt that we have done the wrong thing and given up on love altogether. It’s easy to feel that way and not uncommon, but that feeling is not based in reality. Each of us knows that the love never stops, but the guilt we feel continues though it is absolutely needless.
A Better Way
Numerous studies and personal experiences show that the best way to take care of everyone (including mom, dad, and you) is you don’t do it. Of course we are going to take care of our parents, but not only is the heavy lifting and the daily care not incumbent upon the children, it’s likely not what is best for the parents either.
In some cases, mom and/or dad sit at home without any social interaction and become students of the news and sports on TV. In other situations, a son or daughter has moved them into their house to keep them close and take care of them while also working a 9-to-5 job and caring for a family of their own. The former option leads to a shortened life for the parents who are living vicariously through TV which is not really living at all. The latter leads to added stress and a shortened life for the care giver.
Though we may not want to accept it, the truth is that assisted living is an important and necessary part of each of our lives and it never means that you have given up or stopped loving your parent. To the contrary, putting them into assisted living is the best thing you can do for them and you in multiple ways.
Assisted living has become more prevalent over the last several years as the beginning of the Baby-Boomer generation began hitting 65. As over 10,000 boomers turn 65 every day, and have in fact driven a huge portion of our economy in different ways throughout the years, they continue to do so as they hit retirement and beyond. They have taken care of us, our nation and our economy and now it is up to us to take care of them.
Each of us holds some form of an idealist story in our head that as we grow old, we will sit next to our spouse on the back porch, watch the sunsets and talk about the old days as we laugh about each other’s bodies falling apart. Though a sense of humor can be paramount and we all might as well be able to laugh at ourselves, that ideal story is rarely a reality.
It is true that as we live longer, we also remaining capable longer, but inevitably we will all still need help. It usually falls on the grown children to make that final decision and take the best care of our parents. Assisted living homes give you the opportunity to continue being a son or daughter and not lose “you” in the process. It allows the care that your parent(s) need and deserve while granting some autonomy from you as well. It’s likely that for a large portion of your life you have lived without your parents in your home or you in theirs.
Why should it be any different as they grow even older and require assistance with regular daily living? If we are being honest with ourselves it is only guilt that drives that feeling. We justify that guilt by placing restrictions on ourselves that are sometimes unjustified and other times completely unnecessary. For others, they can feel the impending end and feel like they need to make up for lost time.
You’re harried as you wake your kids and get them out the door in the morning. You still have to get mom up and help her use the bathroom. This is new to you, but hey, she’s your mother and has wiped your butt more times than you can count. You get her something to eat and help her transfer to her favorite chair. The activity today is television and you find something in the refrigerator for her to eat. As you step out the door and kiss her goodby, you hope the television will keep her occupied. Hopefully until a care-giver can arrive and help her use the bathroom again.
You coordinate with the care-giver throughout the day (as well as a nurse from time to time). This inevitably reminds you of the extra cost of having them come to your home. When you get home in the evening, mom’s in the same place you left her. There’s time for a hug, but the kids have activities and there is dinner to be made.
There is still time to talk to mom in the evening before you’re exhausted and off to bed to do it all again. The conversations have begun to lull as mom has nothing new to talk about except maybe the newest horror story on the news.
What If – Take 2
Assisted Living – Morning, Day or Night
Consider for a moment walking into your mother’s home. A nurse or CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) has helped her into her favorite chair after a wonderful breakfast. She’s reading a book or talking to a friend. You get to come in, give her a hug, spend time with her, talk to her, laugh about old times and basically be her son or daughter. You tell her what her 3-year-old grand son did to the dog. She missed it, but she’ll get to see him this weekend. That’s new since she used to live hours away, but now she’s just 10 minutes away.
All of the care she used to do herself is augmented by someone trained to do so. If she has medicinal concerns, those are also taken care of. Sure you may come in with the normal stresses of life, but “she” isn’t one of them. She is just there being your mother like she always has. You still have to go to work, but your mother is going to do some yoga, reading or a craft she enjoys. Maybe she’s going to talk with a care-giver or fellow resident and have a lunch prepared. She might be off to go shopping, to the theater or a movie in the afternoon. Maybe she will just sit on the back porch drink an iced tea. All of that is an absolute and realistic possibility.
There are bonuses to each of these stories, but are they bonuses for you or for her? Are you keeping mom close to you to assuage your guilt or to give her the best and fullest life she has available?
Leaving the guilt behind for a moment, you say, “but assisted living is expensive!” That may be true, but is it expensive for your mom and dad’s pocketbook or yours? Is the expense of not truly living an equal or greater cost than living a shorter unfulfilled life?
Still, cost and payment is a topic each of us needs to consider. Assisted living is not free, but as we consider aging costs as a whole, it can be affordable. Bank rate gives some consideration to this topic here
The mixture of two lives or more has significant complexities. Relationship stressors, general life stressors, the cost of a care-givers, and overall quality of life. The true cost becomes not using assisted living. Assisted living allows the cost of care to be consolidated. It makes a home for several people, which allows better care for everybody.
The question really becomes not whether to choose assisted living but which one to choose. Helping you choose is a subject we also cover as there are many factors to consider. Choosing the right Assisted Living Home. For now, consider dropping the guilt and realize that assisted loving is the best answer for everyone.