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The decision is often taken under difficult circumstances, for example, after an older relative has had an accident. But taking an active part in choosing the home can help you realise the benefits of care, and talking to other people in the same position can help you through this difficult time.
It’s entirely normal to have mixed feelings about placing your older relative in care.
“We see all kinds of feelings in the relatives who come to us,” says Gillian Dalley, chief executive of The Relatives and Residents Association, which offers advice and support to relatives making these decisions. “Often, it’s a complex mixture of feelings. Guilt and fear are common, because many people have a bad impression of care homes. Thankfully, that impression is rarely justified.
“The first step towards dealing with the guilt and uncertainty is to accept that what you're doing is for the good of your older relative. It can be difficult to accept that a parent, or a spouse, can't continue to live independently, but it’s something you have to face up to.”
You didn’t choose the circumstances that mean that your older relative can no longer stay in their own home. But, now that this is the case, you’re trying to do the best for them.
Play an active role
“Playing an active role in choosing a care home can help with these feelings. You can visit homes and satisfy yourself that your chosen home will look after your relative,” says Dalley.
“Ask lots of questions and talk to current residents and their relatives. Many people have a negative view of care homes and they’re often pleasantly surprised.”
You can learn more in Choosing a care home (see Top 6 articles at the top left of the page).
Some relatives find it easy to give up the role of carer, but others struggle with this. Try to be aware of your feelings, and how they affect your attitude towards the care home.
“Sometimes relatives can feel angry about what has happened, and become hypercritical of their chosen home,” says Gillian.
“Of course, genuine problems do need to be addressed. It can help to get to know the relatives of other residents. Often, if there is a genuine problem with the care home then others will have noticed.”
The first few weeks
This can be the most challenging time for both you and your older relative.
“Visiting can be difficult at first. Perhaps your older relative isn’t happy and hasn’t settled down. Perhaps you’re simply missing them.
“Remember, this is a period of adjustment for you, too. It can be similar to bereavement when an older relative goes into care, because caring for that relative has often been a huge part of your life.”
At this stage, it's important simply to keep going. If you see problems with the care your relative is receiving, or you have concerns of your own, you must discuss these with the care home staff. But give your relative time to settle in.
“Over time, your difficult feelings should diminish as you watch your older relative settle in to their new life, and perhaps make new friends,” says Dalley.
“It’s not unusual for older people to flourish in a care home. They may make new friends, pick up old hobbies and have a new lease of life.”
Talk about it
Perhaps the most important step you can take in coping with your feelings is to talk to others in the same position.
“Sharing your feelings and concerns with others in the same position can be an enormous help,” says Dalley. “Often, care homes will have a relatives’ association where you can meet other relatives for a chat. Many will have shared the same concerns as you, and faced the same kinds of problems.
“Talking to other relatives can help you accept that placing your relative in care was the right decision.
“If you participate in meetings and events such as summer and Christmas parties, this will help you feel connected to the care home, and so to the care your relative is getting. It’s another chance to talk informally to staff and other relatives.”
The Relatives and Residents Association can help you find other relatives of people in care in your area (see Useful links).
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