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BEACON Senior News

How to find purpose after placing a loved one in professional care

Feb 20, 2024 11:37AM ● By Laird Landon, PhD

Dear Laird: I feel like an utter failure. Out of profound love and respect for my dear husband, who is now in the final stages of Alzheimer’s, I made a heartfelt pledge to care for him until the very end. However, as his condition deteriorated, the weight of this responsibility became unbearable. Even our kids thought it best to place him in professional care—which we’ve now done. But I am a guilty wreck for going back on my promise.
Signed, Broken Promise

Dear Broken: For many, the decision to place a loved one in professional care is one of the most devastating decisions of caregiving. We want to care for them at home, but the harsh reality is that the demands of caregiving can surpass our capacity to meet them. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed by guilt, but it’s entirely misplaced.

Making this decision can indeed feel like a personal failure. We may struggle to find our footing, as our routine is disrupted and our busy home now quiet. It may feel like we’ve lost our purpose as caregivers. 

But, we haven’t. 

Even though the primary responsibility of care now rests on someone else’s shoulders, you remain your husband’s primary caregiver. While your daily responsibilities may have evolved, your role has shifted to that of an advocate—you remain in charge of ensuring your husband’s safety, comfort and joy. While others may assist with keeping him safe and comfortable, no one can create moments of joy for him as well as you can.

To discover ways you can support your loved one as an advocate, take a look at our Advocacy Tips for Family Caregivers

It’s crucial to prioritize rebuilding the life you put on hold as a caregiver. You’ve likely heard the advice to “take care of yourself” countless times before, and perhaps you even resisted or felt irritated by it. Frankly, I’ve been there myself. When you’re carrying the weight of caregiving responsibilities, it’s natural to feel exhausted. However, now that circumstances have shifted, it’s time to prioritize your own well-being without guilt.

To begin, make a commitment to reclaim the sleep and rest that you’ve missed. Dedicate an hour before bedtime to unwind with a book or your favorite TV show. Establish a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same times each day to help retrain your body’s internal clock. Ensure your sleep environment is conducive to rest by keeping the room as dark and quiet as possible or by using a sleep mask to block out light. After the upheaval of transitioning your loved one to professional care, experiencing the first good night of sleep will lift your spirits.

Additionally, start reconnecting with friends and incorporating exercise into your routine. Start with short walks, and seek out friends who uplift and support you, focusing on conversations and activities that bring joy rather than dwelling on your husband’s situation or topics that evoke sadness. 

The day I placed my wife in professional care, my gaze landed on a sorry-looking artificial flower arrangement that had adorned our home for decades. Without thinking, I picked it up and tossed it in the trash. In that moment, I was surprised by my own actions, but I couldn’t help but smile. It may sound disrespectful to some, but amid the stress and pain of caregiving, it made me feel a little bit more in control of my life. 

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