“I promised Mom I’d always take care of her.” “I feel like there’s more I could have done.” “I should be able to handle this on my own.”
Sound familiar? You might be feeling a mix of emotions as you seek care options for a parent with memory loss, but the most common — and the most complicated — is guilt.
“All caregivers feel guilty,” says Sondra Jones, Chief Marketing Officer for The Arbors. “Especially the ones who are caring for their loved ones at home.”
One of the biggest sources of guilt for family caregivers is when a parent’s memory loss progresses to the point that their needs can’t safely be met at home anymore. When the topic of memory care comes up, many caregivers feel as if it means they aren’t doing a good enough job caring for their loved one or that they’ve failed in their duty to care for their loved one.
“But choosing to move a loved one into a memory care community is not the worst-case scenario,” Jones says. “Sometimes it’s the best thing you can do for your loved one and yourself.”
If you’re beating yourself up over placing your parent in a memory care community, consider these reasons why you shouldn’t feel guilty about memory care (and some tips for coping with guilt when you still do).
1. Memory Care Helps People With Memory Loss Thrive
One of the most common reasons caregivers feel guilty about memory care is because they don’t really understand what memory care is.
“Families are worried memory care means, ‘This is the end,’” says Talin Ganemian, director of the Reflections Memory Program at The Arbors at Westfield. “They’re worried their loved one will be in a locked unit, that they will be ignored or mistreated, or, even worse, that their loved one will be overmedicated.”
In reality, memory care is just the opposite of that. Memory care is a special kind of long-term care designed to meet the specific needs of people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia or types of memory problems. Often housed within an assisted living community, a memory care program offers a more structured environment with set schedules and routines to create a stress-free lifestyle, safety features to ensure the health of the residents, and programs designed to cultivate cognitive skills and provide social opportunities.
“The entire environment and program of memory care is specifically geared toward keeping a senior with memory impairment or dementia as independent and successful as possible while living a social, fun, happy life day in and day out,” says Carrie Wilson, director of the Reflections Memory Program at The Ivy at Ellington. “Even if you can manage to provide physical care for a loved one at home, you are still missing out on that social aspect.”
Fight feelings of guilt by reminding yourself that, instead of being isolated at home, your parent will have the opportunity to make new friends and lead a fuller life in a memory care community.
2. You’re Still Part of the Caregiving Team
Another reason caregivers feel guilty about moving a loved one with memory loss to a memory care community is they feel as if it indicates they failed at caregiving and are giving up or abandoning their loved one.
The truth is, you’re still the captain of the caregiving team if you move your parent into a memory care community.
“Family members are a wealth of information and a huge assistance to us,” Wilson says. “So we bring them in and make them part of a care plan team. There is also a lot of communication from the community to those family members so they know their loved one is active, is engaged, and is cared for. And we don’t only tell them, but we also show them through Facebook and newsletters.”
Not only can you still take an active role in their care, but you’re also providing them with more care and attention than they can get at home.
“The program is so full of activities throughout the day,” says Lindsay Redin, Executive Director of The Ivy at Ellington. “They’re not in their home where there’s no engagement. There are people to talk with, walks to be taken, meals to be enjoyed. There are all these components of their day that they didn’t have before.”
Fight feelings of guilt by reminding yourself that allowing memory care staff to take over some of the caregiving duties doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned your loved one. You’ve done a great job caring for your parent up until this point, and memory care is simply the next step necessary for their health and well-being.
3. You Get to Be the Son or Daughter Again
Caring for someone with dementia can be frustrating and exhausting. At one point or another, every caregiver “loses it” or feels like they’re on their last nerve while providing care. But many caregivers feel guilty about wanting to get away from their caregiving role and take time for themselves.
However, taking care of yourself isn’t anything to feel guilty about. In fact, it actually improves your ability to love and care for your parent with memory loss.
“Many caregivers find that memory care helps them to have a better relationship with their loved one,” Jones says. “When you’re no longer your parent’s primary caregiver, you can become their son or daughter again.”
Imagine that instead of fighting with your dad to get him to eat his dinner or spending an hour trying to get your mom dressed for her doctor appointment, you can stop by the memory care community and your time together can be more special, less stressful, and more like it used to be before the stress of caregiving clouded every interaction.
“The right memory care community will make a huge difference in the families lives as well as the resident,” Ganemian says.
Fight feelings of guilt by reminding yourself that moving to memory care can give you back your relationship with your parent.
4. Postponing a Decision Could Cause More Harm
The biggest reason you shouldn’t feel guilty about memory care for a parent with memory loss is that if you wait too long, you could be putting your parent in danger.
For example, toward the end stages of dementia, people have a hard time getting around. If you’re trying to get your 180-pound dad to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you could both easily get hurt. Additionally, when your loved one is living at home, all of the medication oversight falls to you. And if your loved one has a habit of wandering, it can be easy for them to get out of the house without you noticing.
Waiting too long to move to memory care can also cause a medical condition to progress. For instance, negative drug interactions and side effects can be avoided with the oversight provided by a memory care community, and a decline in health could be avoided with good nutrition and physical activity provided by a memory care community.
Fight feelings of guilt by reminding yourself that the situation can go from bad to worse if your parent doesn’t get the care and supervision they need.
The bottom line is that there is no downside to moving your loved one to memory care too soon, but there are drawbacks to waiting too long. There is no shame in choosing the best possible care situation for you and your loved ones, so don’t let guilt stop you from helping your parent move to a place where they can get the care they need.
For information about how you can make sure a memory care community is the right fit for your loved one with dementia, download our eBook.