4 Tips for Caring for a Loved One in Assisted Living

Knowing how to navigate the transition as a caregiver can help you manage your responsibilities and emotions.

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A woman taking her elderly father around the garden.

Julie Hayes is the Editorial Assistant at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.

Figuring out where you fit in after you have moved your loved one into assisted living can be tough. It may seem like this is the end to your role as a caregiver. But for most caregivers who go through this transition, this does not turn out to be the case. Rather than coming to the end of their caregiving role, they find that their role merely changes. You may experience a certain degree of freedom as a result, but the shift also comes with a whole new set of responsibilities and potential sources of stress.

If you have become a secondary caregiver to a loved one in assisted living, chances are that many things will remain the same. You may keep visiting your loved one on a regular basis, help out with his or her daily activities, discuss issues with facility staff, maintain responsibility for finances and arrange medical-related care. However, you may also find it hard to deal with certain issues, such as scheduling visits, not seeing eye-to-eye with staff or feeling guilt and a loss of control. If any of these issues apply to you, the following tips may help you to lessen the stresses, and maximize the positives, of moving into a secondary caregiving role:

1. Strike a healthy balance when it comes to visiting

After your loved one has moved away, it is only natural to want to visit as often as possible to help out, check on his or her condition, and to simply spend time with one another. However, visiting too frequently can often increase stress, especially if your visitation hours conflict with important responsibilities at work or home. On the other hand, visiting too infrequently can often increase feelings of guilt and relationship strain with your loved one (Aneshensel, C.S., Pearlin, L.I ., Mullan, J.T., Zarit, S.H., & Whitlatch, C.J. (1995). Profiles in caregiving: The unexpected career. San Diego: Academic Press).

Because of this, it can be beneficial to find a good balance in how often you visit. If you feel that visiting every day or several days during the week causes too much stress, cut down to a few times per week, or whatever amount you feel your schedule can handle. The amount of time is not as important as how meaningfully you spend the time the two of you have together.

2. Voice concerns to staff, but also listen

While having professional staff to help manage your loved one’s care may cut down on the responsibilities you have been juggling, you may also find it hard to lose a degree of control over the way your loved one’s care is being handled. Maybe, for example, you disagree with the meals the staff is choosing or on how they interact with your loved one.

But disagreements of this sort can lead to regular conflicts with the staff, which can in turn heighten both your stress and the stress of the staff working with your loved one. Rather than allowing a situation to become too confrontational, remain calm when bringing your concerns to the staff and be willing to hear them out. Ask them to explain the reasons behind the care decisions they make and how each choice affects your loved one.

If you continue to be dissatisfied or have serious concerns with the care your loved one is receiving, the following options are available:

  • Schedule a meeting with key staff at the facility to discuss a plan for your loved one’s care
  • File a complaint directly through the facility, or through the state licensing agency, which can be found using an online locator
  • Hire a geriatric care manager to assist you in advocating for your loved one’s needs
  • Contact an ombudsman. A professional advocate for residents of care facilities, an ombudsman handles complaints and champions residents’ rights. The Ombudsman Program is free to use. To find an ombudsman in your area, go to The National Consumer Voice’s online locator.

3. Try emotional coping strategies

Once your loved one has gone into assisted living you may feel guilty that you have not done enough for him or her as a caregiver. Your guilt may be more intense if your loved one is having trouble adjusting to the change or seems unhappy. If guilt has become an issue for you, the following coping mechanisms may offer relief:

  • Acknowledge your emotions and recognize that they are a natural part of going through this transition
  • Share your feelings with a person you trust, or with a mental health care professional if they interfere with your everyday life
  • Remind yourself of the benefits the facility can provide your loved one in terms of care and medical assistance
  • Use your new role as an opportunity to put the focus on your relationship with your loved one rather than on his or her care

4. Allow yourself time to adapt

Getting used to having your loved one in assisted living can be a challenging process, and the stress you experience may not immediately dissipate. However, a study on long-term adjustment showed that after three years of having a loved one in a care facility, most caregivers reported improved emotional well-being and less strain in balancing their work-life duties (Aneshensel et. Al 1995).

Adapting to any major change in your life takes time, so stay positive and give yourself the time you need to fill your new shoes.

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