The decision to move an ill spouse or aging parent into a nursing home may be one of the most difficult choices we will ever have to make in life. In fact, it is common for spouses and adult children to promise they will never subject their loved one to “one of those places.” While that sentiment may be sincere, that kind of promise is based on unpredictable circumstances and unforeseen events. Life, especially as we age, is fluid and ever-changing.

Promises that include the word never or always are unrealistic since no one knows what the future will bring. Start the decision-making process by asking these questions: Are you finding it difficult to continue hands-on care for your spouse? Do you feel emotionally drained and/or chronically tired? Does your spouse need daily rehabilitation and/or specialized supervision? If you’ve made the difficult decision to move your loved one to a nursing home or another facility, it’s possible you’re struggling with guilt about this change. You also may be grieving several losses that resulted from this decision or struggling to adjust to the changes in your lifestyle. No doubt your decision to place your family member in a facility was not made lightly. You likely took into account many factors.

Sometimes, these decisions are taken out of our hands by sudden situations or concerns over deteriorating health. Other times, the decision comes about gradually, with multiple family members weighing in, physicians giving advice and warnings, and friends encouraging you to take the next step. While there’s turmoil as the decision is made, it doesn’t always stop just because someone is admitted into a facility. Here’s how to help your loved one and yourself to adjust to this new life change: * First, acknowledge that you’re coping with a significant adjustment. While this doesn’t change the situation, it can help to give yourself permission to pause and understand the challenge you’re facing. *Find new ways to express your care and love. Maybe you can bring the newspaper, a cherished pet for a visit or a flower every day to your loved one. *Acknowledge that even though you and your loved one may not have wanted them to live in a facility, there could be some benefits to nursing home care. Although you may feel that nothing can compare with the level of care you gave your loved one at home, some people find that their loved one actually improves in a facility because they’re getting the care consistently that family members wanted to provide but just couldn’t maintain effectively at home.

Understand that the possible mix of emotions including grief, loss, guilt, and relief, may allow for a healthier adjustment after nursing home placement of a loved one and is essential for coping with life post-placement.

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