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

13 answers | Last updated: Nov 21, 2016
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 Answers

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.


Community Answers

Guilty feelings are common but always remember you doing what is best for your mother. That requires uncommon courage. It helps to make a decision on the frequency of visits such as once or twice a week, whatever is comfortable for you. It is wise to vary the time and day of week as the previous expert noted. This eliminates the constant worry of "should I visit today?". Also, set an agenda for your visits and keep it consistent. For instance, take a walk, have a favorite snack, look at the family photo album, anything she enjoys. One to two hours is usually adequate, whatever is comfortable for you. And always remember to enter her reality no matter where or when it is. It is not helpful to try to orient her to current reality. By doing these things you are honoring the mother you love. I wish you and your mother the very best.


Monica heltemes answered...

It sounds like the last year has been rough, with a lot of changes for you and your mom. As the other experts advised, do not be too hard on yourself. All you can do is your best at any given time. Sometimes that time will be focused on your kids, sometimes on your husband, sometimes on yourself, and sometimes on your mom. It is not humanly possible to focus on all of these at once. With more time to adjust to her new environment, your mom might not be so upset when you leave her. Try to visit her at a time of day that is 'good' for her, which can lead to a better visit and help you to feel good about it. You could also consider a 'therapeutic fib' (or white lie) when you leave, like telling your mom that you have an appointment to bring your kids to. This may make better sense to your mom, avoiding her upset. To have a good visit together, you might consider special Alzheimer activities, such as large-piece puzzles, or having a special treat together, like ice cream. Hoping for smoother days ahead for you both.


Daizie answered...

When Mom entered Assisted Living Memory Care; I asked for the doc to come in and the Shrink took us both into her apartment and talked to us. In front of Mom; he stated that he wanted me to come only 2 times a week or 3 at the most. My mental therapist said the same thing to me. The gullt starts up each time I go to leave and she wants to come with me and then says; You just don't love me. You put me in here to get rid of me. I also was advised by social services in rehab that she COULD NOT LIVE ALONE any more. Her dementia had gotten worse. My coworkers told me DO NOT BRING HER TO LIVE WITH YOU. They knew it would not work because of her dementia. I know she is in the best place for her condition and is treated beautifully but the guilt is still there when she starts up. They have activities daily, entertainment all the time, decorations galore for every holiday, music, great food, they have her tested periodically for HBP, thyroid etc. She wouldn't go to a doctor at home. But they all have to adjust to their newer surroundings and hopefully they do.


A fellow caregiver answered...

Is she able to talk on the phone? That might help with the continuity/not feeling abandoned issues for her, as well as some of the guilt issues for you.


A fellow caregiver answered...

Daizie - It's going to sound funny, but you should take those phrases as compliments - the fact that she tries to use those particular words trying to manipulate you means she believes that you DO love her and care about her!


Dmgo answered...

Oh, I can relate to this same situation!! Thank you for posing the question and the answers here were very helpful (and also relieving some of MY guilt.) I have found that keeping my visits to an hour worked the best. Also, I time it so that I leave just when they are serving dinner so she can have a distraction and not feel abandoned by me. I take her to the dining room table, stay for a couple minutes and say I have an errand or shopping to do and leave as they are setting down the trays. Makes for a smoother transition, for both of us.


Happygirl52 answered...

My situation is similar in that my mom lived with me up to a few months ago when she fell and from hospital to rehab to nursing because she could no longer care for herself. I also work full time, have a husband, grown children and many things that I need to take care of. Prior to this she was wandering, not eating, not sleeping, and it became very difficult to care for her. I too feel guilty when can't make it one day, or when I am leaving. I agree that the guilt is within ourselves and we need to deal with it. We have done our best for our moms, and now they need professional care. Take splice in knowing that she is out of danger and being well cared for.


Rosar answered...

Hello, Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Thank you everyone for sharing your thoughts as well. Here are a few additional resources: https://www.caring.com/blogs/self-caring/are-guilt-trips-the-only-trips-you-get-to-take, https://www.caring.com/questions/guilt-trip and https://www.caring.com/articles/7-deadly-emotions-of-caregiving. You are also welcome to join one of our many online communities for ongoing support: https://www.caring.com/support-groups. Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.


A fellow caregiver answered...

Lets rephrase the question. How often would you want your children to visit you? Whatever answer you come up with then thats what you should follow. What goes around comes around. Peace!


Daizie answered...

This last one saying how often would you want to have your kids visit is another guilt tripper. It's how often you can make it and be comfortable there. You are not to rile them up or have them rile you up. you have to drive home and that could cause an accident. It is wise when they act up for you to get up and leave. All the nurses will tell you that. They calm down and most don't even remember it but you will for a while, blood pressure rises. you get stressed out and you could get sick.


Dmagnin answered...

I have been dealing with this for 3 years. Warning: it doesn't get any better although there are little bumps up on rare occasions. God Bless your plight and live your own life first!!!


Burned out 2016 answered...

My dad has been the n nursing home for almost a year. He broke his hip, do d rehab, developed complete incontinence on both ends, has severe cognitive impairment. Kidney failure, orthostatic hypertension and osteoporosis. Just as we settled into some acceptable routine, he fractured his spine. Now, he is in a brace, on opiates, and can't even feed himself. It feels like he is totally paralyzed. I go visit him every day. Between trying to feed him, dress him in layers of clothes because he is always cold, constantly looking for the CNAs to change him and shift him, advocating with the charge nurses and doctors, and trying to have him stay focused on whatever little PT he can do, I feel drenched when I return home. I am depressed and exhausted. Going to a nursing home every single day, seven days a week is miserable enough. Seeing him decline, shake, disoriented, list, shivering and crying is heartbreaking. I don't know how lucky no he got left, but it seems like his body is breaking down and the bone attacks he experiences will probably continue. Opiates make his dimension worse but without him, he is in pain. My life has been utter misery for the last year. He is like a baby. Constantly needing diaper changes, feeding and total dependence on other people. I am the only person in his life who cares enough to be there everyday. But, my frustration is overcoming. I am impatient with him because I have my own physical aches and pains, and can't stop feeling anger andd guilt. A lethal combination. I started therapy, but so far not making strides. I take anti anxiety mess and really don't want to go on a to depressants. I am thinking of stopping my daily visits and going there three to four times a week. The thing is he is so much worse now due to the spinal compression fractures. I fear that he is fading, and that if I don't show up every day, they will neglect him. He needs feeding and the staff at the nursing home does not really want to do that. They leave a tray at his bedside, and he can't eat on his own anymore. What do I do? No money to hire private sitters for his bedside at the nursing home, and I am about to crack.