Why a Move to Senior Housing Can Be the Best and Safest Choice
Last updated: May 2023
Part of caring for someone with Alzheimer's is wondering when they will need more help. As a caregiver for my mom, who is living with the disease, I know it is inevitable that her needs will increase.
After my mom lived with me and my family for a few years, we had to decide if it was time for a different and safer living situation for her.
It can be a scary and overwhelming decision. It's one that I talked myself out of many, many times. Who wants to do something a loved one doesn't want to do? I did not want to make the decision and was in a type of denial because I didn't know if it was the right time, so I just kept putting it off.
To simplify it for myself, I stuck to 2 major points: Safety and quality of life. I'll focus on safety here and then cover quality of life later.
New hazards come with Alzheimer's
The way that the brain changes with dementia can create new and surprising threats to a person living with the disease. Things that were innocuous before - walking, driving, making dinner - can suddenly become extremely difficult or even dangerous.
Sometimes the disease changes depth perception and spatial awareness, making a dark rug on the ground look like a hole in the ground or nearby things look far away. It can also impair balance and vision. Simply walking around can become difficult or scary.
Judgment changes can also create safety problems. A person with the disease might mistake plastic fruit for the real thing or think that medicine is candy and try to eat it. Gun ownership, driving, and other freedoms enjoyed in life suddenly take on a different meaning when dementia comes into the picture.
Keep track of safety issues
When my mom lived with me, I constantly wondered if she was safe. I carried a burden for her safety that I didn't have when she lived somewhere else. I worried that I would find she'd fallen down the stairs, gotten lost in the neighborhood, or burned herself while cooking.
Additionally, I am considered a sandwich caregiver because my husband and I also care for my 3 young children in the same home. When Mom had some falls and broke a couple of toes, I knew her fall risk was increasing. She was also struggling on the stairs.
I doubled down on my safety efforts; I removed throw rugs, reinforced the handrails on the stairs, and rushed to make sure the icy sidewalk was salted before she went outside to walk her dog in the wintertime. There are lots of safety measures you can take to make sure your loved one is safe at home at each stage of the disease.
But despite my best efforts, my kids would inevitably leave toys or clutter out, and I always worried Mom would trip and fall.
Consider caregiver safety too
Mom also started burning things on the stove in our kitchen. I once came home, and the house was filled with thick smoke. A blackened pot was in the sink. When I asked what had happened, she was confused and asked, "What smoke?"
Now I also started worrying that my mom might accidentally hurt someone else. It was heartbreaking and a little scary, and I hated even thinking of it. But I kept track of these incidents and wrote them down. This helped me have a record to share with her doctor and gave me data points to look at in the future.
Get an outside opinion
My support group helped me see the seriousness of these safety issues and that I couldn't procrastinate any longer. I could not wait until someone got seriously hurt. Safety is a number 1 priority, both for your loved one and the family and caregivers.
If you are worried about safety, try talking to someone outside your situation. They don't have stakes in the decision and can bring an unemotional, objective perspective that helps you see what's happening more clearly.
Someone has to make the final decision
Family and other caregivers can give input, so you're not making this big decision alone. But other opinions can also complicate the matter (a "too many cooks in the kitchen" problem), so think carefully about who you include in the decision-making process.
In my situation, all my family was out of state, and I was the only one who knew the safety issues firsthand. My mom had also designated me as her power of attorney for healthcare. I wanted someone else to decide, but ultimately I was the one who had to make the final call.
It was a difficult decision to move my mom into senior housing. Even though there are still risks, I can breathe easier knowing that her environment is designed around safety and well-being. And thankfully, she is settled in and very happy in her new home, even thriving with the routine, enriching activities, and new friends.
Make a tough choice a little easier
Caregivers are in an agonizing dance. We are trying to prolong our loved one's freedom as long as possible while not waiting so long that anyone is in danger. We have the huge responsibility of making sure our loved ones and those around them are safe and happy.
There is no guidebook for these weighty decisions. But you can make the decision a little easier by focusing on everyone's safety and health. Keep it simple and know that safety is a great and appropriate reason to consider moving a loved one to senior housing.
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