Talking With Family About Nursing Home Placement

Few decisions are more difficult than the one to place a spouse or parent in a nursing home. Because nursing homes are seen as a last resort, the decision is generally overlaid by a sense of guilt. Most families try to care for loved ones at home for as long as (or longer than) possible, only accepting the inevitable when no other alternative is available.

The difficulty of making the decision can be compounded when family members disagree on whether the step is necessary. This is true whether the person disagreeing is the person who needs help, his or her spouse, or a child.

The placement decision can be less difficult if, to the extent possible, all family members are part of the process, including the senior in question, and if everyone is comfortable that all other options have been explored. This will not ensure unanimity in the decision, but it should help.

Consider taking following steps:

• Include all family members in the decision. Let them know what is happening to the person who needs care and what providing that care involves. If possible, have family meetings, whether with the family alone or with medical and social work staff where available. If you cannot meet together, or in between meetings, use the telephone, the mail, or the Internet.
• Research other options. Find out what care can be provided at home, what kind of day care options are available outside of the home, and whether local agencies provide respite care to give the family care providers a much-needed rest. Also, look into other residential care options, such as assisted living and congregate care facilities. Local agencies, geriatric care managers, and elder law attorneys can help answer these questions.
• Follow the steps for finding the best nursing home placement available. If you and other family members know you’ve done your homework, the guilt factor can be assuaged (at least to some extent).
• Where necessary, hire a geriatric care manager to help in this process. While hospitals and public agencies have social workers to help out, they are often stretched too thin to provide the level of assistance you need. In addition, they can have dual loyalties, to the hospital that wants a patient moved as well as to the patient. A social worker or nurse working as a private geriatric care manager can assist in finding a nursing home, investigating alternatives either at home or in another residential facility, in evaluating the senior to determine the necessary level of care, and in communicating with family members to facilitate the decision. These steps cannot make the decision easy, but they can help make it less difficult.