Family Challenges: When Independent Living is no Longer an Option

The authors are not qualified to make psychological diagnoses. However, after years of communicating with hundreds of families who were considering assisted living or other senior care arrangements, they can offer observations about a typical family's actions, feelings and emotions during this difficult time.

The process of recognizing a problem with a loved one's independence, and subsequently assisting them into another living arrangement, is complex and difficult.

Directly or indirectly, every family member is affected by the situation. Friction and resentment among family members can occur during this potentially disruptive and stressful time. Below are some common family reactions during this difficult time:

  • Parental Resentment and Frustration. There is a role reversal which occurs when your parental loved one becomes dependent upon you. You used to depend on your parent, now your parent is becoming dependent upon you. Both you and your parent become very uncomfortable with this reversal. Resentment often results. As these roles change, your parent may feel you are too controlling, while you may feel that your parent is too demanding or uncooperative. Many possibilities for friction exist.

It seems that the more accepting your parent is of their failing abilities, the less resentment and frustration they have with their relocation. Still, it is difficult for both parties. If you and your family can anticipate and recognize these issues and are able to discuss the situation, it can aid in the reduction of friction and resentment within your family.

  • Sibling Resentment and Frustration. If there is a member in your family who contributes more time and effort to assisting your loved one, it is possible that they could resent the perceived lack of an equal effort from the others.

It is also possible that any negative feedback from those in your family who were not involved will further cause resentment by those who were involved. This situation can be described as the "if you did not contribute to the effort, you lost your right to complain" syndrome. Discussing the situation between your family members can reduce this resentment, but this is still an extremely sensitive issue for many families.

  • Guilt and Frustration: The bond between children and parents or other loved ones is very deep. Children are deeply ingrained with needing the help of their parents in order to survive and to thrive. Even as children become adults, and their physical and financial dependence is reduced, the "psychological dependence" on the parent continues for decades, sometimes forever. When your parent becomes dependent on you, your psychological base becomes disrupted. Your stress levels can skyrocket.

At this disruptive time, you can also feel guilt as you consider the relocation of your loved one. Children often feel as if they are not fulfilling their responsibilities to their loved one when they give up the care of the loved one to others, such as in assisted living homes. The reality of the situation is that you are doing the very best thing for your loved one by placing them in living arrangement, which much better addresses their needs. Regardless, the guilt and frustration within you may continue.

  • Financing and Frustration: Most of the costs for the living arrangements of seniors are paid for by private funds. With few exceptions, Medicaid and Medicare fund only skilled or nursing home care. Funding for assisted living and other more independent senior residential living arrangements come predominately from private sources, which are likely to be the assets of the resident and/or their family. It must be noted that an increasing number of states are directing funds toward assisted living. You should ask your attorney, the providers you visit and the many other information services available as to the available funding sources for assisted living in your state.

In the event private funding is required, it is common to sell the assets of your loved one, such as their home and car, to fund their stay in assisted living or other age qualified service oriented living arrangements.

If the assets of your loved one become depleted, your family often contributes to the cost of the care for your loved one. Obviously, there can be great guilt, frustration and resentment amongst family members as these costs occur. Some family members may be more easily able to assist in the funding than others. Guilt and resentment can arise from these inequities, as well as some frustration toward your loved one for "requiring" this sacrifice.

Continuing Relationships and Frustration: Once your loved one is relocated into their new living arrangement, the involvement of your family continues to be critically important to the health, welfare and lifestyle of your loved one. Sadly, sometimes families greatly reduce their involvement with the loved one after the relocation.

Sometimes, one of the family members continues the relationship with their loved one, while other members of the family do not. When these things happen, it is easy to see how and why friction, frustration and resentment arises amongst family members because of differing levels of involvement with their loved one after their relocation.