How To Support a Loved One Who’s in Long-Term Care

Placing a loved one in a long-term care can be a difficult process. The realization that a facility is the best place for your spouse or parent can bring on feelings of sadness, anxiety, and guilt.

Unfortunately, these feelings probably won’t disappear immediately. Once the one you love enters a long-term care home, you’re bound to continue worrying.

The good news is, you can find ways of managing these emotions. By channeling difficult feelings into positive action, you can support your loved one—and help yourself.

First, recognize that you’re not alone. Over 100,000 Ontarians currently reside in long term care. Across the province, a whole lot of people have dealt with—and continue to deal with—making the same painful decision that you have.

Next, take some time to consider how best to be there for your loved one. Appropriate support will look slightly different in every family. But there’s some advice that holds true for everybody.

In this post, we’ll look at a few basic ways to make things easier for yourself—and the one you love.

Ask questions

Every piece of advice you read about placing a loved one in long-term care will tell you to ask questions. In the early days, talking to management and staff can help put your mind at ease.

But you’re involvement doesn’t end after the first day, week, or month. You have the right to know how your spouse or parent is being cared for on an ongoing basis.

You may also want to ask questions related to your loved one’s mental state. What has she been asking for? Is there anything that she’s been talking about a lot? In many cases, the answers will enable you to provide better support.

Perhaps your mother has expressed a preference for the lemon-scented laundry detergent she used at home. If you’re in a position to do her laundry some of the time, this would be good information for you to have.

Maybe your husband, who has dementia, has been asking about his deceased sister. Bringing in a trinket that belonged to her might calm him.

Staff members do their best to provide caring and supportive environments. That’s a good thing, because they’re likely the people who interact with your loved one most. That said, they don’t know her as well as you do.

A behavioural observation that means little to an on-duty nurse could provide you with the insight you seek. But you may never know until you ask the right questions.

Whether you you speak to the caregivers at your family member’s long-term care home in person or via communication technology, it pays to stay connected.

Stay in touch

You want to be there for your loved one whenever you can. But over time, contact can become less frequent.

There are many reasons this can happen. Geographic distance can make planning visits tricky. Outside responsibilities—such as work and other relationships—might get in the way. And in some cases, recurring conversations that are stressful or counter productive can act as a deterrent.

If distance is an issue, technology can help. Mobile apps make it easy to initiate a face-to-face chat with your loved one—anytime, and from anywhere. Well-designed apps are highly intuitive, so those with cognitive issues, mobility limitations, or low levels of technology comprehension can use them.

Imagine how much your loved one could benefit from seeing your smiling face when he feels lonely or confused. With the right app, he’ll find that reaching out is as simple as tapping your picture on a tablet screen.

When it comes to visits, remember that quality is often more important than quantity. While it can be comforting for your loved one to know that he can reach out to you when he needs to, he may not need to see you as often as you think.

Planning can help you make the most of your time together. For example, you may want to ask staff what time of day your family member might have the most energy for a visit.

Lastly, if your loved one has complaints, listen to them. It can be tempting to downplay frustration and try to put a positive spin on negative comments. But make sure your family member feels heard.

The sooner you address any issues that might prevent your visits—or make them awkward—the sooner you can start truly connecting with your family member.

Understand and process your emotions

It’s a cliché for a reason: when you’re strong, you’re in the best possible position to help someone else. This is certainly true when you’re supporting a family member in long-term care.

There’s a good chance you’ve heard of caregiver burnout. Essentially, burnout is a state of complete exhaustion that may be accompanied by feelings of apathy. Someone who cares for an ill loved one around the clock is a prime candidate.

When you’re family member is in long-term care, you’re unlikely to suffer from burnout. But other feelings may emerge. And they can get in the way of the support you’d like to offer.

When you stressed, it’s difficult to help a parent stay calm. When you’re heartbroken, it’s hard to reassure your spouse that everything’s going to be okay. And when you’re plagued by guilt, it can be difficult to share your best self with your loved one.

Sometimes, grief also appears. Watching someone you care about undergo sudden behavioural changes can be a shock. In some cases, the change is so drastic that family members are left grieving the person they used to spend time with.

It’s a whole lot of people who must have to deal with the emotions that accompany these changes. According to the Ontario Long-Term Care association, 90% of Ontario long-term care residents have a cognitive impairment. In one of every three cases, the impairment is severe.

Whatever negative emotions you’re experiencing, recognizing them is key. Once you’re aware of how you feel, there are several steps you can take to deal with them.

Speak to a counsellor. Take time to decompress. Remind yourself that you’re doing your best. Do whatever you have to do to prevent your emotions from harming your relationship with your loved one.

Feature image courtesy of The Irish Labour Party

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