Separating Parents for Assisted Living: Tips to Help Them Cope

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My mother struggled with Alzheimer’s for more than twelve years.

For the first five years or so, my father cared for her in their home. Like so many spouses, he outdistanced his resources to cope, and Mom and Dad moved in with my husband and me. We shared responsibilities for their care with my brother and his wife for eight more years.

But as Mom’s condition degenerated, it soon became clear that she’d need to be placed in an assisted living home for those with Alzheimer’s. But what about my father? My dad made a heroic and challenging decision: to move into an Alzheimer’s facility with just six residents in order to stay with my mom.

But few spouses have the opportunity to make that decision. Many face the pain of separation, forced upon them by illness and aging.

Dave Singleton, award-winning writer and Caring.com expert, offers advice for what family can do to ease the trauma and provide support for their loved ones who face separation. Click on Dave’s name to read his entire article, which is excerpted below.

  1. Determine in advance how the relationship will continue.“Before anyone makes a move, encourage your parents to map out how the marital bond will carry on,” says Mary Koffend, president of Accountable Aging Care Management. Of course, if a parent has dementia or Alzheimer’s, it could be impossible for them to make such a plan. But assuming they can, “if Dad now lives in assisted living, then maybe Mom comes over every day for dinner.” Or perhaps she joins in on a regular activity that they can both enjoy on-site, such as discussions, book clubs, craft sessions, games, gardening, playing cards, or watching television.
  2. Ensure that the facility supports the couple.“The key is to promote the couple’s identity as a couple as much as possible, or desirable, for both partners,” says Cheryl Woodson, author of To Survive Caregiving: A Daughter’s Experience, A Doctor’s Advice. “Make sure the facility is convenient for the healthy partner in terms of transportation, access, and schedule.” If transportation to and from the new living facility is an issue, arrange in advance for a loved one or paid caregiver to drive, so that your parents get time together. “Even if it’s brief, at least they talk a bit, kiss good-bye, and off one of them goes,” says Koffend.
  3. Help your parent with feelings of guilt and inadequacy.Chances are the parent remaining at home feels tremendous guilt as well as sadness over the separation. “A parent might feel like he’s no longer honoring his wedding vows, or that he isn’t doing enough,” says Koffend. You can be supportive by being the voice that reminds Dad that he’s doing all he can. Give him a dose of what Koffend calls “reality therapy” — in other words, talk him out of wishing for what can no longer be. “Help parents understand the choices they are faced with, and reaffirm that they made the right choices, emotionally and logically,” says Koffend.

You can find more information about caregiving at Caring.com and information about Dave at http://www.DaveSingleton.com.

2 thoughts on “Separating Parents for Assisted Living: Tips to Help Them Cope

  1. This is an important topic, as these days both parents survive well into their 80s in many families. My father recently moved my mother into an assisted living facility when her dementia became too much to handle. The move and separation were hard on both of them — and for the rest of the family — but we all recognized that my father was not ready for assisted living. He visits her almost every day.
    Thank you for the post.

    • Thank you for your insights, Theresa. Even though my father was with my mother, it was hard when hospice placed them in separate beds in the same rooms. It’s important to provide help for our loved ones in navigating these transitions.

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