‘Guilt can get the better of you’: Coping when a loved one moves into aged care

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It can be difficult to know when it might be the right time to look into help or assisted living arrangements for a loved one, particularly as people struggle to cope with the complex emotions that can be involved in such a transition.

Due to complex care and health needs and the strain it can put on loved ones, it is not always possible for ageing relatives to remain in their own homes with the help of home care services, or make the move to retirement villages.

And with rising media attention around the aged care sector following the commencement of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, adult children and relatives often have to do battle with their own feelings of guilt and can feel obliged to take on the responsibility of providing the required care themselves.

Starts at 60 spoke to Relationship Counsellor Janet Muirhead about the impact this situation can have on families and why it is important not to feel guilty if your loved one does require full-time care in a nursing home, as she explained that bottling those feelings up can lead to other issues.

Muirhead, who is the Practice Manager Relationships Counselling, for Relationships Australia in South Australia, said: “Assisting older people to decide when to move to supported living situations can be fraught with challenges.

“One of these challenges is the feeling of guilt, and how it can get the better of you, despite it being a normal life transition where you are doing everything you can to help.”

Some of the challenges linked to the decision to move a relative into a nursing home include adult children feeling guilty for not returning the favour, having being cared for by their parents over the years, with Muirhead explaining that often children feel unable to complain once their parents’ needs increase or become more complex.

“It can be a challenging time. For most of their lives, children have been cared for by their parent, who have been in the decision-making seat, and then the tables are turned and the adult children become carers and play a huge part in this transition,” she added.

“Also, adult children often begin to feel fragile themselves and can be relieved that their parent is no longer as dependent on them. Often one child is more responsible in terms of providing practical support than others in the family and understandably can feel guilt as well as relief.”

Muirhead said it’s vital that people discuss and “unpack” these feelings of guilt, advising people to ask themselves: “What does guilt have you doing that you would rather not be doing? And is it a hindrance to either you or anybody else?”

“It may be important at this point to seek counselling – either as an individual or with family members,” she added. “Talking with someone outside the family can help you to make decisions about the best way forward – and actions to take that will relieve your feelings of guilt.

“Discussing these issues as early as practical is always a good idea. Arrange regular catch ups between siblings from early on to find out and understand each other’s points of view – either with the Elder involved or perhaps not.”

Many people in the Starts at 60 community understandably have concerns when it comes to the prospect of entering aged care, revealing they worry about everything from failing to fully understanding their options, to abuse, neglect and struggling to afford sufficient care.

Last year almost 1,000 readers took part in an online poll which asked people to share their biggest concerns about the sector, with the majority (13.7 per cent) telling us they were most afraid of falling victim to abuse, neglect or malpractice at the hands of staff in aged care facilities.

The second biggest worry among readers was revealed to be the increasing cost of services, with 9.3 per cent admitting they are concerned about being able to afford sufficient care when they need it. Many people also expressed their concern over the profit-geared focus of the industry.

Another major concern, claiming 6.7 per cent of the vote, was understaffing, with many readers telling us they were concerned about a lack of trained aged care workers, which could lead to patients having to go days without showering, or without having their incontinence pads changed regularly.

Do you have a loved one in an aged care facility? Was it a difficult decision for you, or your family, to make?

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