Making the Transition to Assisted Living or Nursing Home Care

Mallory J Greene
Mallory J Greene
June 12th 2024 - 7 minute read
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Deciding to move your loved one into long-term care is based on one's specific care needs, individual circumstances as the caregiver, etc. This guide discusses key considerations for determining if long-term care is the best option and covers strategies for transitioning smoothly.

As a caregiver, one of the most difficult decisions you may face is when to transition your loved one to an assisted living facility or nursing home. This monumental shift sparks a rollercoaster of emotions - guilt, sadness, anxiety, and perhaps even relief. Doubt may cloud your mind about whether it's truly the right choice.

Deciding to move your loved one into long-term care is a personal decision with no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on their specific care needs, your individual circumstances as the caregiver, and a variety of other factors. Ultimately, you have to weigh the realities of whether you can continue providing the level of care required at home.

This guide acknowledges the emotional turmoil while walking through key considerations for determining if long-term care is the best option. It also covers strategies for making the transition as seamless as possible when that time arrives.

Signs Long-Term Care May Be Needed

If you're struggling with the long-term care decision, start by evaluating your loved one's current needs. Indicators it may be time to explore assisted living or nursing homes include:

  • Wandering or getting lost, especially for those with dementia
  • Frequent falls or mobility issues preventing self-care
  • Need for around-the-clock monitoring and care
  • Rapidly declining health or cognitive function
  • Behavioral issues that put themselves or others at risk
  • Inability to get adequate nutrition or take medications properly
  • Your own burnout, declining health from the stress of caregiving

Don't wait until there's a crisis before considering long-term care options. Getting ahead of mounting care needs ensures a calmer, smoother transition.

Benefits of Long-Term Care

For caregivers torn by guilt, it's important to focus on the potential upsides of assisted living or nursing homes:

  • Around-the-clock professional care and monitoring
  • Medication management supervised by nurses
  • Assistance with daily living activities like eating, bathing, dressing
  • Specialized care for conditions like dementia or diabetes
  • Nutritious meals and snacks prepared for dietary needs
  • Social engagement and enrichment activities
  • Opportunities for rehabilitation and therapies
  • Living spaces designed for safety and accessibility
  • Secure environment with locked units if wandering is an issue
  • Peace of mind knowing your loved one is getting proper care

The potential drawbacks like cost and giving up independence are valid. But weigh those against the risks of inadequate care and the toll on you as the caregiver if attempting to have your loved one remain at home becomes unsafe or unmanageable.

Choosing a Long-Term Care Facility

If you determine assisted living or a nursing home is the best path forward, take time to carefully evaluate your options:

  • Tour multiple facilities to get a feel for the environment, staff attentiveness, and overall vibe. Don't be afraid to make unannounced visits.
  • Pay close attention to staffing levels, staff tenure, training and philosophy of care.
  • Inquire about staff-to-resident ratios, especially for evening and weekend shifts.
  • Make sure the facility is equipped to provide any specialized care needs like memory care.
  • Check inspection reports, complaints, and violation records.
  • Talk to residents and their families about their experiences when touring.
  • Look for facilities located close to friends and family for convenient visiting.
  • Understand costs, payment options, and what's included for that price.

Involve your loved one in the process as much as possible. Their opinion, preferences and comfort level matter immensely, even in cases of cognitive decline. The goal is finding the right caring, compassionate environment.

Easing the Transition

Even if the long-term care decision is correct, the initial transition is hugely disruptive for your loved one. Take steps to facilitate adjusting to this major lifestyle change:

  • If possible, make the move seem temporary initially. Refer to it as a trial stay or shorter-term rehab depending on your loved one's frame of mind.
  • Decorate their new living area with treasured photos, keepsakes and belongings to provide familiar sights. Having their own pillow or blanket from home can provide comfort.
  • Accompany your loved one during meals, activities and outings while they get acclimated. Your reassuring presence helps tremendously in the first few weeks.
  • Give them time to settle in. The sadness and anger that comes with the move is normal and to be expected initially.
  • Update friends and family on their new address and schedule so they get frequent visitors.
  • Don't withdraw your involvement completely. Continue looking out for their emotional and care needs.  Visit frequently and voice any concerns promptly.

Importantly, don't beat yourself up during this emotional process. Prioritize self-care like you have for so long with your loved one. Seek support groups for caregivers going through this transition to help manage the natural guilt, grief and stress.

Funding Long-Term Care

Of course, the astronomical costs of long-term care are a huge consideration and stressor. A recent survey found the median annual cost for assisted living was over $54,000 while nursing homes averaged over $105,000 annually.

Don't automatically assume these expenses are out of reach. There are various options to explore:

  • Long-term care insurance can cover some or all of the costs if your loved one has an existing policy. Just be aware of the coverage details like benefit period limits.  
  • For those without insurance, spend-down rules for Medicaid can allow your loved one to qualify once they've depleted most of their assets and savings to a certain level.
  • Some life insurance policies may allow you to take out a loan against the death benefit. Certain types of permanent life insurance policies may allow you to access a percentage of the face amount each month for long-term care.
  • If your loved one is a veteran or the spouse of one, they may be eligible for the VA's Aid & Attendance benefit which can help cover care costs.
  • Explore options to rent out or sell your loved one's home to generate funds for care costs.
  • Long-term care costs may also be tax deductible for your loved one and you as the caregiver.
  • Nonprofit organizations and local charities may offer grants or assistance programs to help defray costs as well.

Navigating this financial minefield is undeniably stressful. Consult financial advisors to understand all available options fully. With diligent planning and utilization of various funding sources, long-term care is possible even without being wealthy.

Know You've Done Your Best

Feelings of guilt, sadness, and questioning your decision is normal when your loved one transitions to long-term care. These immense emotions don't mean you failed as a caregiver or gave up.  

You've sacrificed tremendously up to this point. But ultimately, your own emotional, physical and financial resources are finite. Prioritizing your loved one's quality of care - even if that means making the gut-wrenching choice to move them to long-term care - is the greatest act of love.

Have confidence that you've done everything possible. You've advocated tirelessly for your loved one's well-being every step of the way. You've marshaled all available resources and help.

The transition to long-term care doesn't sever your role as a caregiver either. You'll remain instrumental in overseeing your loved one's care, being their voice, and most importantly - showing up with a supportive, loving presence.

So allow yourself to feel the complexity of emotions this transition brings. But don't languish in misplaced guilt or burnout. Celebrate that your loved one is receiving the level of care they need from caring professionals. Rejoice in having some caregiving burdens lifted from your shoulders so you can recharge.

This journey hasn't been easy, but you've exhibited remarkable strength and love every step of the way. Have confidence you've made the right choice for your loved one's well-being, along with your own. Their long-term care is now in good hands.