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Guilt and denial: Dealing with placing a parent with Alzheimer’s in senior care

mother and son smiling together

Alzheimer’s disease affects the mind in many ways, leading to loss of memory, confusion, poor judgment and decision-making skills, among other essential functions. But it also poses great challenges for the friends and family who care for the person, and the progressive condition can elicit feelings of sadness, anger, frustration and fear among the children of these seniors.

When it comes time to decide if one’s parent should be placed in an assisted living community, children often experience guilt or denial and put off placing their parents in a specialized environment such as Aegis Living, which meets the mental and physical needs of a person with dementia. This can be detrimental to the health and safety of the parent, so it’s important to deal with these emotions and move past them.

Recognizing and coping with denial

When a senior begins to show symptoms of dementia, such as difficulty remembering or confusion, it can easy to dismiss these as simple forgetfulness that comes with getting older. Even after a parent is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, their children may be afflicted with denial, stuck with the feeling that their mother or father will simply snap out of it.

It’s important to recognize one’s own denial before an incident occurs that brings harm to the parent or causes a person with Alzheimer’s to hurt someone else. Driving, for example, can be very dangerous for a person with dementia, as they may have trouble recalling right-of-way rules, become lost in their own neighborhoods or hit a pedestrian in a bout of confusion.

Unfortunately, in the same way someone with Alzheimer’s can’t snap out of it, neither can a person dealing with denial. The coping mechanism is a way of protecting yourself from the truth about a very severe situation, and it can be beneficial in the short-term, allowing you time to adjust. But prolonged denial can be detrimental to your parent’s health if it causes you to put off taking the right steps toward helping him or her cope with the condition. If you feel stuck or have been told by someone you trust that you may be in denial, it might be time to take a step back, reassess the situation and be honest with yourself about the fears causing you to experience denial. It may help to consider what negative consequences can occur if you don’t take action. Then allow yourself to express your fears, such as in one of these ways:

  • Start a journal: Writing about your emotions and experiences can be very therapeutic. Seeing details about your situation displayed on paper can allow you to distance yourself and see things in a new light.
  • Talk it out: Open up to a loved one or trusted friend about the fears you’re feeling. Simply by listening, he or she may be able to help you shed light on underlying causes of your emotions. Sometimes, hearing yourself say something out loud can allow you to better understand the reality of situation.
  • Join a support group: Surrounding yourself with others in your situation can make it easier to cope with denial and move past it. As you hear others’ stories about dealing with a parent with Alzheimer’s, you may begin to let your guard down, accept that your parent has dementia and take steps to improve his or her life.

Understanding and overcoming guilt

Most family caregivers must make a tough choice at some point – to send one’s parent to an assisted living community or care for him or her at home. This can muster up intense feelings of guilt for a number of reasons. Children may feel regret for how they treated their parents before diagnosis – before they knew it was dementia causing cognitive dysfunction – or for feeling trapped and resentful after diagnosis. They may feel at fault for wanting more time for themselves, wishing the whole thing was over or not visiting often enough.

One of the biggest sources of guilt is the feeling that the family caregiver is not doing a good enough job and that someone else could do better. The idea of placing a parent in an assisted living community enhances this negative feeling, as many children consider it a form of abandonment. It’s essential to recognize that this guilt, though a normal part of dealing with Alzheimer’s, is undeserved. When one’s head is clouded with emotions, it can be difficult to see that a specialized environment is necessary for the health and happiness of the parent. If you’re beating yourself up over placing your parent in an assisted living community, consider these solutions:

Find new ways to show care
If you’re used to being responsible for the health and safety of your parent, it can be hard to let go and allow someone else to take over these duties. Remind yourself that placing your parent in the hands of trained and compassionate individuals isn’t a form of giving up, it’s a different way of caring for your parent. You can fight feelings of guilt by contributing to the health and happiness of your parent in different manners, such as by bring the morning newspaper each day, stopping by for dinner or calling to say goodnight each evening. You can also maintain an active role in your parent’s health care by keeping open lines of communication with his or her clinicians.

Visit an assisted living community
Concern over the level of care a parent will receive can be a major source of guilt, so take some time to really get to know the environment your mother or father will be living in. Stop by an Aegis Living community to discover the truth about this setting, which is specially tailored to help people with Alzheimer’s stay physically, emotionally and mentally healthy as well as maintain cognitive function. By experiencing it first-hand, you can find relief knowing that Aegis isn’t a place seniors go to finish their last days, but a place to embrace life and make the most of each day.