Coping with the transition to long term care

By Valerie
June 11, 2010


One of greatest challenges of my work is servicing clients who reside in a Residential Care facility, or commonly referred to long term care or a nursing home.

It brings up a lot of difficult memories of visiting my grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease and spent 4 years in facility care. My grandmother was a formidable woman and the images that come to mind are of a vibrant, articulate and elegant woman who once modelled for Eaton’s in the 1940s. She had unique and special relationship with all of her grandchildren, she loved quotations and had beautiful penmanship and was in all her glory at the centre of attention at any family event.

The grandmother who moved into long term care was not the woman I remember. On numerous occasions, she packed her bags with the intention of moving back home from the facility. She employed a short-lived strategy of refusing visits from family members and eating. My grandmother, who was known to be a very assertive woman in her younger days, behaved aggressively towards staff. About a year after the move, she lost her ability to walk and cognitively experienced a very sharp decline. The last two years of her life were spent in a “Geri-Chair” and her ability to communicate verbally or in writing diminished sharply.

Visiting with clients in long term care also elicits a sense of “not being able to do enough” to reduce their feelings of loneliness or sense of utter dependence. Even for paid professionals, there is grief in experience the loss of client. It’s sad knowing the person you are caring for, is for lack of better analogy, at the last stop in their life before death.

How is that for a little “doom and gloom” on this fine blustery, grey and rainy day?

The decision for an aging parent to move into a Residential Care facility is one of the most difficult decision a family will likely face. Guilt, resentment, confusion and relief are just some of the emotions caregivers experience. Many families tend to under estimate how difficult this transition can be and often find themselves unprepared emotionally and in their planning for such a major change in the life of the person they are caring for.

Family caregivers and the person they care for, are often, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the decision and the process. It’s not only the move itself; rather the preparation of the move and the adjustment post-move.

The next couple of columns will focus on some of the challenges and issues surrounding the decision to transition an aging relative into a residential care facility. Seniors and family caregivers can read about how plan for the most successful move possible and how families can help themselves and their loved ones adjust to their new living.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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“You are amazing! What I tried to do in 2 months, you did in 1 week. You’ve helped us navigate the system, made sense of Mom’s disease, and gave back her independence and control. Thank you for making such a difference in Mom’s life and giving us, her family, complete peace of mind.”

– Mike G., Nanaimo, BC