Did we make the right decision, putting our parents in assisted living?

2 answers | Last updated: Oct 18, 2016
Kay kay asked...

My mom and dad live together on a farm for 50 years now and have a routine and love the place and animals, but mom now has early to moderate Alzheimers and the neurologist recommended Assisted Living for both of them since they are verbally abusive to each other, are paranoid of robbers and lock everything around, mom forgets to take her medications and both of them keep taking money out of the bank that should be used for bills and accuse my brother who is the POA and is paying their bills of stealing from them. They do not have much Social Security to afford other living arrangements, but we found a lower cost Assisted Living for my mother close to my hours but 6 hours away from my dad and moved her in recently. Mom wants to return home to her animals and previous way of life and packs her bags daily. She has not started to be verbally abusive to the staff, but I see it coming. Even though my brothers and I feel this was a good decision, I am extremely stressed/burned out and not sure what to do at times. I was not sure if I should even go to see my mom each day...if it is good for her or not. Does anyone have a suggestions on how to handle this situation or have experienced this type of situation in their families?

Expert Answers

Deborah Cooke is a gerontologist specializing in dementia, delirium, caregiving, and senior fitness. She is a certified dementia care provider and specialist through the Alzheimer's Foundation of America. Cooke currently manages several multidisciplinary programs to enhance well-being for hospitalized seniors and other vulnerable patients at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. She also serves on the board of NewYork-Presbyterian's Patient and Family Education Advisory Committee. She has 18 years of experience working with the aging and caregiver communities.

Hi Kay. I can hear your enormous stress in your words. You have every right to feel stressed out and really need to take care of yourself first. If you aren't in the right frame of mind, no one else with you will be. Additionally, the stress you are feeling likely is stronger because your parents (who loved each other and spent their lives together) are now separted...six hours apart. That in and of itself is a difficult decision to make and continue to live with.

Expressive anger and paranoia are not uncommon in dementia patients. Moving them to an assisted living or any alternative living arrangement may exacerbate these and other problems. I think her packing up is OK. She is not used to the environment she is in; she likely misses your dad (even if they weren't being nice to each other); and, she misses her "old" life. She and the rest of your family likely are grieving about the entire change in responsiblities and loss of the people you and they used to know.

Often if someone is angry, it is easy to be angry right back and lose your temper. This may have been the case with your father in dealing with your mom, or with the banking. The most important thing to know is that your mom (and maybe dad) likely does not know her behavior and its effect on others. Rationalizing doesn't work. You need to keep your voice and body language as calm as possible (the staff too) and try not to change what is real for her. Redirecting energy is a great technique. For example, if your mom is packing her suitcase, you may want to change the conversation to a discussion of a favorite trip she had. For your dad who thinks your brother is stealing,acknowledge his concern and redirect the energy to something like "tell me about your job." There is no one best answer to this situation or any other situation dealing with caregiver burden, stress, and family relationships.

To some degree, being away from your mom for a bit may be the best thing for her and you. I think that's a gut decision you need to make yourself. Also, reach out to the assisted living staff and ask them questions about what may be best for her.

I know these aren't hard core answers, but hopefully something to think about. I hope I've helped you to some degree. Know you aren't alone and please take care of yourself!

Community Answers

Mimi3*** answered...

My mom is constantly packing and unpacking. It is the nature of the disease. I tell her we would be sad if she left and really want her to stay, but we can't do much about it until tomorrow. Sometime this works other times not so much. When she goes into the bathroom I quickly go into her room and put stuff back where she had it and she doesn't remember she was packing.

When my mom was in a NH the staff told my dad not to come every day because he also needed a break and she was kept busy so she didn't really know if he didn't show up.

Don't be hard on your self, give your self some slack and feel good about the decisions you made for your mom and dad because you made them out of love and caring.