How to cope with having an elderly parent or spouse isolated in a senior care setting during Covid-19 and beyond.
Many families are struggling during Covid-19 because their elderly parent or spouse has had to be isolated in an assisted living facility. This is particularly hard if that loved one has memory loss.
Despite the precautions of the virus, having our family members cared for by people other than us, can be difficult to begin with. Now we have the added burden of worry that they could become ill. However, there are several other challenges to this arrangement, with or without the virus.
Loss- First, their memory loss means you have been dealing with a parent or spouse who is still here, but not like they used to be. You are slowly but surely losing pieces of who they were and what they were to you. You are losing your best friend in some cases, the person you looked to for advice, to celebrate, the one you shared all that history with.
As with any loss, it means letting go of what was and accepting what is.
With your loved one isolated now in a senior care facility, you have lost control of a lot of what you used to be able to do for them. Families have been shut out to protect our elderly from germs. This means that we have had to let someone else care for them. No one is going to care for them exactly like you do, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good care.
There are lots of ways to combat the sadness, guilt and loss of control that has families struggling right now.
Guilt-Adult children always tell me they feel guilty about leaving their parent in an assisted living alone. First of all, guilt implies that it is your fault. This virus is no one’s fault. It might be better to change the word guilt, to regret. Instead of saying, “ I feel guilty I can’t be there for my mother”, you can say, “I regret that I can’t be there for my mother at this time, but these are the rules protecting her right now.”
We cannot measure what we can do now by what we used to do for our loved one. If we used to visit daily, now that is not possible. But we could call daily or write a letter twice a week. Older people love to get mail and if they can’t see to read it, a caregiver will be happy to read it to them.
Perhaps you feel guilty because you didn’t feel you spent enough time with a parent before this all happened. We can’t change the past, but we can express our regret and make up for it now and in the future. It is ok to tell someone you are sorry and start healing a relationship and yourself. It is ok if this is an uncomfortable subject, and there are tears or anger. The only way to work through these feelings is to feel them.
Sometimes a parent is feeling sorry for themselves and unintentionally or intentionally makes you feel guilty. This is not your fault or responsibility and, in this case, no matter what you do for them, they will not be satisfied, because it is about them, not you.
Loss of Control-Know that although you can’t be there providing care personally, you can still speak with the staff and make sure your loved one is getting the best care possible and that all of his or her needs are being met. The care will look different, but that doesn’t mean it is inferior care. A new unique way of doing things might even be fun!
Start thinking of yourself as your loved one’s best friend, instead of their son, daughter, or spouse. This takes that weight of responsibility and makes it seem a little less daunting. Sometimes we also feel that our family member’s issues and actions are a reflection on ourselves.
A great way to help caregiving staff is to tell them some personal details about what your family member likes. You could even make a poster for their room so that when a caregiver enters, they have some conversation starters that are familiar to your parent or spouse. For example:
Mom loved her trip to Alaska
Mom makes the best Lasagna
Mom loves to have her hair combed
Mom loves to sing country tunes
Mom once met Johnny Cash
You might include an old picture of her when she was young, so that she is not only seen as a little old lady, but the caregivers can relate to her as the same as them, having been young once too!
If you are truly worried about your parent in a senior care setting because you feel their needs are not being met, speak with the director right away about your concerns. If that doesn’t ease your mind you can call your state’s Ombudsman program. These are volunteers from a state agency who investigate complaints in a senior care facility.
Should I take care of Mom or Dad at home? Our love and concern for our parents can sometimes lead us to make decisions that are not realistic for us no matter that our hearts are in the right place.
Some questions to ask yourself before considering this life altering decision.
Do I have time to take care of them? What are my obligations between work, kids, pets, friends, hobbies, community obligations, socialization, taking care of my own health? Because if you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else. What would having a parent living with me do to my relationship with my spouse, my children? How will I keep mom or dad safe? Would they be safe at night while we are sleeping? Would they have to be alone all day while I work? Then would I have to hire outside caregivers for them? What will my relationship with my parent be like if I become their caregiver? How will they feel about parent/child role reversal? What happens to them if I can’t do it? How likely is it that my brothers/sisters will help me? Especially if they have several other obligations. How much do they help now? There was a reason they moved to an assisted living facility in the first place, it was so you could be their daughter while other people cared for their multitude of needs.
Take care of yourself, while you have this time. So many families are dealing with the same issues all over the world. You are not alone. Reach out to a support group through your local Alzheimer’s Association, Senior Center or Agency. Another good way to process your feelings, is to keep a journal. Sometimes this journey can be really emotional and writing down our feelings can be a great outlet to sort things out. Get plenty of sleep and spend time with friends. “Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness” -Desiderata
Visiting-At the writing of this, facilities are starting to let families visit outside with masks. People have been waiting with anticipation for months to see their loved ones. Be prepared that it may not, at first, be the reunion you have pictured. I have heard from several family members who have finally seen their family members. Your loved one may not remember how long it has been since they have seen you. The mask that they will have to wear may be irritating to them, the weather may not cooperate, they may be tired at that time of day. Meet them where they are at and know that it is just the beginning of a new normal that will likely go very well in time.