The Dreaded Decision: Putting a Parent in a Nursing Home

by Evelyn Snow of Snowballsandwich


It’s a decision I dreaded for a long time. The day finally came when my dad could no longer live alone. My mom passed away a few years ago, and my dad stayed in their house by himself. I tried to get him to move in with me, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He said he didn’t want to disrupt my family’s life, but I knew it was more about him keeping his independence for as long as he could. Eventually he gave up driving, and he’d let me take him to his doctors’ appointments. But when he left the gas stove on for the fourth time, I knew something had to change.

Just the thought of putting my dad in a nursing home made me feel guilt and anguish. He and my mom took care of me for 20 years until I moved out of their house. They put me through college, helped pay for my wedding, and were wonderful grandparents to my two kids. I owed it to my dad to at least try to take care of him rather than just sending him to a nursing home, right? But the fact is, taking care of an elderly adult is much different from caring for a child. And, to be honest, I just couldn’t picture myself ever having to change a diaper for my father, the man I’ve looked up to my entire life.

My dad doesn’t have Alzheimer’s, and he doesn’t even have true dementia. He just forgets things. And he needs help with everyday things like bathing, dressing himself, and even brushing his teeth. His hands just don’t cooperate anymore. But I know that the older he gets, the more help he’s going to need, and I had to make the decision that it would be better to allow professionals to help him.

I did have some concerns, though, other than my own guilt. Nursing homes are expensive. I found out that in 2009, the average cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home was $72,270. That’s an annual salary for some people, and more than many people make in a year. I have to admit, having to think about the cost did compound my guilt a little. My dad deserves the best care out there, not just the care we can afford. But the cost is a valid concern to make sure that he does get the best care available to him.

I was shocked to discover that Medicare covered so little of the expense. I had always thought that was part of what that program was created for. But it was a start. Once I talked to my dad and he agreed that it was time for him to move into a place where he’d have help all the time, we also made the difficult decision to sell my parents’ house. My husband and I have our own home, and I’m an only child, so there was no one else to leave it to. We evaluated some other investments my father had, and my husband and I did some financial rearranging, and we made it happen. It wasn’t easy, and some days it’s very difficult to manage, but we get it done for my dad.

Even more than the cost, though, I was concerned about my dad’s well being. I wanted to find a place that offered the best care, and where he’d be comfortable and happy. But I’ve also heard horror stories about nursing home abuse. I would never be able to forgive myself if something happened to my dad in the nursing home I moved him into. I did a lot of homework.

I talked to directors, managers, nursing staff, and nutritionists at several facilities to find out what kind of care they’d be giving my father. I asked managers whether their staff underwent background checks. I looked up Better Business Bureau profiles, and yes, I even went so far as to do a little digging into court records. I had to know whether any of the places we were considering had ever received abuse complaints, or had been sued for negligence, injury, or possibly even death of any of their residents. Upon finding one complaint of abuse against one home, even though it was from 15 years ago, I immediately took it off the list. I wasn’t taking any chances with my dad’s health and safety.

After gathering all the necessary information, and figuring out how to pay for everything, the last thing I did was take my dad to top three nursing homes we’d narrowed our list down to. We toured each place, and he got to see where he’d be living, and what kinds of activities were offered. He met some of the people who would be taking care of him on a daily basis so he could get a feel for who he liked, or didn’t like. My dad has always been a good judge of character, and I wanted him to be involved in this important decision.

My father chose the nursing home he liked the best, where he thought he’d be the most comfortable, and we moved him in a week later. He’s been there for about six months, and although the adjustment was a little bumpy at first, he’s happy now. He goes to an exercise class every day, and there’s always someone to help him with anything he needs. We visit him often. He’s also made a few friends, and together they play Wii Bowling. I never thought I’d see the day when my dad would play a video game! I also never thought I’d be okay with my dad being in a nursing home. But I am.

Photo credit: eldercareabcblog.com

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