The decision to place my mom in a memory care facility was one of the hardest caregiver decisions I’ve ever had to make. To this day I still feel so guilty and deceitful about it.

Photo of an assisted living dining area with the title why I made the memory care decision

How do you know it’s time to put a parent in memory care?

For me, it was a culmination of several things going on.

There were increased incidences of “Where’s the little one?”, “Who has the little one?”, “I want to go home.”, “When can we go home?”, “Will you take me home?”, and various other versions. Now mind you, the house we lived in had been her home for over 50 years. I wasn’t sure what “home” she was referring to.

Very late one evening, she gathered her coat, gloves, toothbrush, toothpaste and her pjs and said she was ready to go. This occurred around midnight, probably in early January. Imagine my panic when she did this. I’ve mentioned before in previous posts that my go-to for help was in texting my brother in Texas to give Mom a call to distract her. He did and things worked out okay that night. While she was talking to my brother I put away her things and when the car was finished I was able to get Mom in bed for the night.

Once while I was gone during the day she went across the street to a neighbor looking for “the little one.” Thankfully, the neighbor brought Mom back home. 

So, it was clear that I had to make some decisions.

I slept upstairs, mom downstairs. I felt that there was a need at that point to put some additional locks on the doors to prevent her from leaving the house at night or some kind of a bed alarm and door alarm to alert myself. And change where I slept.

Or hire a care aide to come in at night. I wasn’t so crazy about either of those ideas. 

The biggest fear I had was that Mom was a flight risk. I was truly afraid she would just walk out the door sometime in her quest to go home.

At some point during these increased incidences of wanting to go home, I had started to take Mom to an adult day care facility so that she could interact with more people and have something to do.

During one of those times when she was busy, I went to talk with and tour another memory care facility. They put Mom’s name on a waiting list. Shortly thereafter, they had an opening and after talking with my brothers (who couldn’t believe I hadn’t made that decision sooner), we made the decision to move her into memory care.

So, back to the original question of how to know when it’s time. Bottom line is this.  – I believe you’ll know.

For me it was a matter of overwhelm that Mom was a flight risk. She would need to be safe.

How do you deal with the guilt of putting a parent in a nursing home?

That’s definitely a hard one. What I did to my mom was very deceitful but I had to keep telling myself it was for her own good. In other words, it made me feel much better that she was now in a facility that was locked and she could not walk out of it.

During one of those times when Mom was at the adult day care facility, I went home and packed up some of Mom’s things and took those over to the memory care facility and “set up” her room with some familiar things. When I was finished I picked up Mom and brought her over to the facility and gave her some story about having to go to this place to get something.

It had been pre-arranged that she would be greeted and taken back to the memory care facility and at some point I would just leave. It was recommended that I not visit for a few days so that she could get acclimated.

I lied to get Mom there and then I left as she was distracted. I remember crying when I got back to my car and felt so guilty about just leaving her there.

I know she wouldn’t have wanted to go into assisted living or a memory care facility but at this point in her dementia journey, I don’t think she really knew where she was.

But I knew it was the right time to do it. I knew that I couldn’t take care of her anymore at home by myself.

I think Mom acclimated pretty well. One time when I visited she thought she was at a hotel and worried about who was going to pay the bill! Another time she thought she was somewhere where they were making things for school children.

Group of seniors sitting around a table at an assisted living facility

Why is it common for caregivers to feel guilty?

I’m sure there are many reasons.

I felt guilty because I’m pretty sure Mom never wanted to go into any kind of assisted living. So it’s a matter of feeling like you let your parent down or you betrayed them.

You may also feel that you haven’t done enough or haven’t tried hard enough to take better care of them. 

It’s also the “should haves” as Elizabeth Bemis writes about in her article Managing Senior Caregiver Guilt Over Nursing Home Placement.

Frequently, guilt is a product of some internal pressure to have done what “should” be done in a given situation. There’s some expectation about what you should be able to handle, how your loved one should be cared for, and what kind of caregiver you should be to them. But these “shoulds” are usually unrealistic and require superhuman capabilities. Every caregiver has their limits, and when the time comes that those limits are exceeded, securing professional care for your aging loved one is one of the best things you can do for them.

So, back to the original question – How do you know when it’s time to move a loved one into memory care? My response is that it depends upon each person and your home situation. Just like the driving issue addressed here, I think you will know when it’s time. 

You might also be interested in these posts – 

Why I Started This Blog

Common Questions About Driving with Dementia