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.

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  • Jim III


    Allowing your parent to sit at home in front of the TV with little or no social, physical or cognitive stimulation should be considering elder abuse. None of us have the medical training to properly care for a fragile and rapidly deteriorating health of a frail senior. If you have ever spent a day in the life of a good nursing home that offers constant stimulation, you will see that it will improve the quality of life for a senior who needs that level of constant observation and care. Google “Eden Alternative”
    Wouldn’t want to be your kid Stan!

  • Stan

    I think you made the wrong choice, a selfish one at its core. You cant imagine changing your dads diapers? Really? So because of your own reservations your dad is left without his family who visit him “often”, big pat on the back to you sweet heart.

  • Geomarc13

    Make sure you got the best nursing home for our grandparents.
    Nursing Homes in Melbourne

  • jerzy

    Let the elderly choose the right nursing home for them. Let them feel that they are welcome and well cared of.
    Nursing Homes Melbourne

  • Jcwright2010

    We just put my mom in a nursing home this past weekend and I know it is a good place for her and a good nursing home.I know she will be better off there with all of the nurses and someone watching her.I am feeling grief and guilt at the same time because I feel like I should be there for her.I am 5 hours away in another state.This is hard for me to deal with.

  • Walker

    What a great post, and informative too. I would also suggest people go to the Medicare website and do a nursing home search, It will show complaints and other important rankings. Several years ago my sons and I had to put my ex-husband, who I care for, in assisted living. So, I totally understand your reservations. It is challenging and it is expensive and there are still times when I have to do things that I really thought I was paying to have taken care of!

    Thanks for this story.

  • Gerry Hogan

    Your Dad is fortunate to have a thinking caring daughter and you are fortunate to have your spouse back you and help.
    Gail Sheehy has a new book out – Passages in Caregiving – should be mandatory reading for all of approaching an age when we might need care and for those of us who may become care givers.
    My husband died almost six years ago after two years battling cancer – one request he made of me was that I not “put him in a home”. I honored that request but don’t minimize the toll that caring for him took on me. I recently spent time with an old friend who became her sister’s care giver – we shared stories of our guilt over the relief we felt when death finally came. It’s not something many of us talk about – makes us feel selfish.
    Good luck. You’ve made a wise and caring decision.

    • Evelyn Snow

      @Gerry Hogan, Thanks for the comment Gerry. There are different sacrifices we must make for our loved ones, and I suppose there is guilt either way.

      Thanks for the book suggestion, I will check it out.

    • Flora

      @Gerry Hogan, Yes, guilt and relief, all on top of the grief of loss.

  • Flora

    Good, thought-provoking piece about a very hard decision we unfortunately may all have to make for our parents. The trick is, I think, is to get them involved in the decision, allow them the dignity to choose the home.

  • DuchessOmnium

    oops, I managed to garble that comment… but I think what I meant is clear:

    I suddenly saw that my time organising my parents’ end of life solutions would very soon give way to my daughter worrying about me.

    Because we are the “sandwich generation” we will barely get our kids off to college and our parents off to nursing homes before we are nearly ready for the knackers yard* ourselves

    *knackers yard: where they grind down old horses to make glue and jello. ByJane, our Fearless Editor, will confirm this is a persistent British metaphor.

    • Evelyn Snow

      @DuchessOmnium, Thanks for the comment. That’s exactly the position I’m in, with my kids in highschool at the moment.

      I’ve never heard the term “knackers yard” before. I believe we’ve just simplified it to “the glue factory”.

  • DuchessOmnium

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. It sounds like you made very careful decisions about your father, and they were even better because he could join in.

    I know my mother was terribly troubled when she had to put my grandmother in a nursing home; she already had Alzheimers and didn’t understand where she was.

    Now it’s the turn of the next generation… but happily my own mother is still just fine and my father has a young(ish) wife. Nevertheless I can completely understand your pain and worry.

    A few years ago, when I was a little more than fifty, my elder daughter had a stint working as a nurse’s aide in a hospital emergency room. Apparently most of her duties involved looking after old people who had simply been dumped by relatives.

    After a while she came to me and said, Don’t worry, Mum, I’ll never put you in a home!

    It made me laugh, but it was also the first time it occured to me I probably would one day not be part of the problem, instead of the one organising the solution.

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