How long should I visit my mother in a nursing home?

Intensity asked...

I know this sounds like a silly question, but I feel so guilty when I leave my mother in the nursing home. My mother has dimentia and was living on her own until 4 months ago. She was hospitalized and told she couldn't live independently after discharge. I brought her to live with me, and she fell often, wouldn't eat, wandered at night, among other things. She was hospitalized again, and this time went to rehab and then nursing. There is an hour drive to the facility, I am exhausted from caring for her, but I feel guilty when I am not visiting, Like I have failed her. I have a husband, grown kids, and a home that needs me too, but I am just sick that she is so miserable. My doctor says my mental and physical health are failing, but there is no one else to visit her. She never remembers when I visit, but begs me not to leave her, she seems to act up more with me there. I would like to get back to some enjoyment, but I don't know if I should. Please help me sort this out.

Expert Answer

Merrily Orsini, MSSW, was a pioneer in the business of providing geriatric care managed in-home care. She currently serves on the board of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice and is Chair of the Private Duty Homecare Association. She holds a master's degree in social work and is a nationally known writer and speaker on aging, elder issues, and in-home care.

What a terrible time for you in your life right now with all those responsibilities and the guilt you are feeling about your mother's situation. The most crucial thing for a family member when a loved one is in a nursing home is to visit sporadically, and not at a set time on a set day. You want to see her care at a variety of times and days.

Although painful for you, and stressful, because of your mother's dementia, there is no right answer as nothing in the visiting situation will change. The key is that you visit when you can, and are relaxed and calm when there. If you need a break, take it. The guilt is only within you, and you are the only one who can overcome that. It sounds as if you are a very good and loving daughter. When your mother had all of her mental capacities, she knew that. When you visit, try taking a photo album or something that might spur engagement. And only stay as long as it is pleasant for you.