As your parents age, there are a lot of emotions you’ll probably experience. Maybe you feel resentment toward siblings who are not helping provide care. Perhaps you feel lonely because the longer you are a caregiver, the more isolated you become.
One of the common emotions Carrie Wilson sees in her role as memory care director of Reflections at Ivy at Ellington is guilt.
“For the majority of the population, most seniors would choose to remain in their home and be self-sufficient, and their family would choose to remain a loving family and make that happen for them,” Wilson says. “We see families in those stages of having their life change, and that brings on different emotions — guilt being one of them.”
Common Reasons for Feeling Guilty
Caregiver guilt can stem from a variety of places. One of the most common that Ivy at Ellington Executive Director Lindsay Redin sees is adult children feeling guilty because they think they’ve failed in their duty to care for their parents.
“Mom or Dad may have always said: ‘I’m never leaving home. Don’t make me leave my home.’ And here they are leaving their home,” Redin says.
Another common reason caregivers experience guilt is because they feel like they’re not being as good as a caregiver as they should be. Maybe your friend is able to care for her mom at home, and you think you should be able to, too.
Sometimes you might have negative thoughts or feelings toward your loved one. Even though you love your dad, you might not like it when he makes impolite comments when you are out in public, and that embarrassment makes you feel guilty.
Guilt is a common emotion, even outside the caregiving realm, so having a guilt-free caregiving experience is near impossible. But that doesn’t mean guilt has to be an overwhelming emotion.
“Our residents are from a generation where assisted living didn’t exist,” Wilson says. “There’s this whole new fabulous concept they’re not aware of, and there are misconceptions of what these facilities are like because it’s based on what their loved ones experienced 40, 50, 60, 70 years ago.”
Why Assisted Living Doesn’t Mean You’ve Failed
Moving a loved one to assisted living doesn’t mean that you’ve failed to take care of them. It means you’re making a smart decision to get them the level of care they need.
“We are staffed appropriately to provide 24/7 care,” Wilson says. “As a family member, a single family caregiver, that’s impossible. It’s not possible to care for someone 24/7 and still care for yourself. On one dimension, there’s an entire team here ready willing and able to care. There’s also that activity and engagement. Even if you can manage to provide physical care for a loved one at home, you are still missing out on that social aspect.”
Strong Social Connections in the Community
One of the biggest benefits of moving to assisted living is that it offers seniors a community where they can find a strong social environment and support network. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can lead to serious consequences for senior health, including an increased risk for accelerated cognitive decline, poorer cognitive function, and dissatisfaction with family and social relationships.
If you’ve been feeling guilty for not spending more time with your aging loved one, assisted living provides a place for residents to gather for conversation and plans programs in lively community areas, such as pubs, living rooms, libraries, beauty salons, private dining rooms, and sunrooms.
“The program is so full of activities throughout the day,” Redin says. “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.”
You Are a Great Caregiver
Moving your loved one to an assisted living community actually makes you a great caregiver.
Although you won’t be the primary caregiver anymore, the care team at the assisted living community will call on you when they’re working on your loved one’s individualized care plan.
“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.
“It takes adjustment for the resident and the family, but once they see and interact with the staff, they gain confidence and trust and realize that everything provided in an assisted living community is so much more than that person could have at home,” Wilson continues.
Getting Past the Guilt
Still feeling guilty? Then take these steps recommended by Jonathan Graff-Radford of the Mayo Clinic:
- Allow yourself forgiveness.
- Accept yourself and your limitations, and recognize that you simply can't do it all.
- Seek help from friends and family who offer it.
- Look into local resources, such as respite care.
- Join a support group for other caregivers, as it can be helpful to talk with someone who's in a situation similar to your own.
Don’t be afraid to talk about it, Wilson says. “It’s guilt, so it’s not easy to express, but talk about it. Let us know how you’re feeling and what you’re dealing with. It allows us to help you, and it allows you to help us.”