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Coping with outsiders who criticize your choices

by Carol Bradley Bursack, Editor-in-Chief

What do you do if your aging parents' friends or, if you are a spouse--your own friends--think you are too hasty in getting outside help for your loved ones?

One of the saddest letters I've gotten from readers was from a woman who had cared for her Parkinson's stricken husband for over a decade. Her whole life revolved around his needs. Eventually, it became too much for her. He froze up when she tried to physically move him. His memory was affected. His sheer size became too much for her. She couldn't handle it, and his needs became too complicated even for in-home help. She had to resign herself to putting him in a nursing home.

A Difficult Decision Criticized

One would think her lifelong friends would rally around and sympathize with her. What she quickly realized was that many people didn't have a clue about how hard it was for her to care for him and how difficult it was, even for in-home help. Some were judgmental--even downright nasty to her--for putting him in a nursing home.

The home was excellent. It was close to where they'd lived for decades and where she still lived. She visited daily. She ate lunch with him. Yet, that wasn't enough for some of her friends who thought she had abdicated her duty as a good spouse. The treatment she got from these people, who were clueless as to what she'd been through, devastated her nearly as much as her husband's illness.

It's not only spouses, however, who have this problem.

A Personal Decision Misunderstood

My mother had a slow developing dementia, along with other issues that caused her to fall several times a week. With my daily help and a personal alarm she wore, we kept her in her own apartment for years.

At this time, my dad was already in a nursing home close to home. After one particularly bad fall, Mom made the decision to join him in the nursing home. She was afraid to live alone. I made the arrangements and she was settled in the home that same day. My siblings and I knew the need for nursing home care and we hoped the decision would be hers, not ours. We got lucky and she made the decision on her own.

However, Mom had covered her dementia so well that people who didn't talk with her daily didn't pick up on it. She was always the ultimate hostess and continued with this persona each time someone visited her, even in the nursing home. They'd walk away wondering why I had put her in a nursing home so soon. She didn't really have dementia did she? Bad daughter!

What these people failed to see was her real condition. They didn't know that she couldn't remember things because she seamlessly made up whatever answer seemed appropriate. They weren't around for her falls. They didn't witness her confusion. All they saw was this charming little lady who was in a nursing home, in their opinion, far too early.

Stay the Course in Getting Help

I had to do what the woman who wrote me needed to do--I had to develop thicker skin. I had to learn that what other people thought was best for my mother was not based on fact. She was better off safe in a home that had offered good care to my dad for many years.

Mom and Dad could be together.

If Mom forgot if she had taken her pills, it didn't matter because she had help. If she fell, there were people to pick her up. If she got hurt badly enough so they needed me to be with her or attend to an ER trip, I was two blocks away.A phone call had me there. I visited her daily, just as before.

Bad wife? Bad daughter?

Please don't judge others when you don't know the facts. And if you are being unfairly judged, know that you made one of the hardest decisions of your life based on the needs of a loved one. Know you did what needed to be done no matter what others think and be happy with yourself for your courage. It's a hard road to travel but you have lots of company.

Know you did well.