Monday, March 25, 2013

Coping with an angry parent moving to a nursing home

By Bob Gregory

               by Patrick Doheny
The decision to move an elderly parent to a Nursing Home can spawn quite an array of emotions for both the caregiver and the elderly parent.  There will be wide swings of acceptance, denial, understanding, mistrust sadness, depression, loss and yes, anger.  These emotions may change daily or even by the minute depending on your elderly parent’s physical and mental health.  These emotional swings make it very difficult for the caregiver to plan and organize for a move and it can often cause arguments and tenuous relationships. As a caregiver, you must stay focused on why the decision to move your elderly parent was made and the benefits it will bring to your parent.  In most cases, the decision to move a parent to a Nursing Home is not one of convenience but one of necessity and if you are like the majority of caregivers, you have waited as long as possible to move your parent.  In an earlier post, I discussed dealing with the guilt of making the move, but what about dealing with an angry parent?

There may be, and probably will be, many times you will have to deal with an angry parent who lives in a Nursing Home but for now I am going to discuss the anger that can arise out of the decision to move your parent and the move itself.  There are actually many reasons a parent may become angry and some have to do with medical reasons, I’ll leave the discussion of those to the medical experts.  However, I do encourage you to make sure you have consulted with your parent’s physician about this type of anger.  Here, I am discussing the anger that generally occurs due to loss.  Loss is a big concept and encompasses many components such as separation, deprivation and bewilderment.  The move to a Nursing Home will certainly
English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions
English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 create feelings of separation and deprivation.  The most basic loss is their home and possessions and the more complex loss is that of control over their own life.  Separation and deprivation from physical possessions can certainly create anger—ask anyone who has lost something or had an item stolen!  If you have younger children or raised children, then you know taking a cherished possession away can cause a lot of anger.  In addition to physical possessions, the loss of control of making one’s own decisions can cause anger.  Have you ever been told you were going to do something you did not want to do or did not agree to do but were made to do it?  Finally, there is the anger caused from simply not being able to take care of one’s self.  If you have ever attempted a task and failed miserably at completing what appeared to be a simple task, then you know the frustration can quickly turn to anger.  Try assembling anything that comes with instructions that begin with “some assembly required” and you’ll know what I mean!

So we know where the anger stems, but how do you deal with the anger?  I personally experienced the anger and resentment of a parent who did not want to be “put” in a Nursing Home and it is not a pleasant experience.

Here are a few tips to deal with the anger:

ü  Make sure you are confident in your decision.  I know that sounds simplistic, but not everyone makes the decision to place a parent in a Nursing Home strictly for the benefit of the parent.  If you are confident in your decision, then you will be strong in your resolve.  If you indicate to your parent that the decision may be premature or could be postponed, you will only create greater anger and mistrust.  Make sure you involve professional help including your parent’s physician and possibly a family counselor if necessary.  You will definitely want your parent to hear their personal physician recommend the move; it won’t alleviate the anger, but it will be provide you with additional confidence.  If you have siblings or other family members, make sure they don’t undermine your decision.

ü  Avoid the debate.  This is not an easy task but it is necessary for your own piece of mind.  Once you have had the discussion with your parent and have confirmed the decision, then avoid rehashing the reasons.  Continuously debating the decision will not change the decision nor will it help your parent accept it.  Be respectful and remind your parent of the reasons the decision was made, but do not debate the merit of the reasons behind the decision.  Also, avoid pointing out inabilities of your parent that further confirm your decision, this will only encourage your parent to attempt the task to prove you wrong and may result in injury.

ü  Include your parent in the search for the right Nursing Home.  This one is a little controversial and there are often as many reasons not to include your parent as there are to include your parent.  However, this may be more for yourself than your parent.  You probably will not find much help in the selection process but attempt to include your parent on tours and discussions.  Don’t be afraid your parent’s anger will become a road block to acceptance by a Nursing Home, their staff is used to this and are trained to manage the anger.

ü  Have a positive attitude and share your emotions with your parent.  It’s hard to be verbally abused by an angry parent pointing out every flaw they can imagine and be positive, pleasant and loving, but that’s exactly how you have to handle them. This is not time to “fight fire with fire” and if you are suckered into doing so, you will find yourself feeling angry and guilty.  Try not to placate your parent’s attacks by agreement, it’s easy to do (You never loved me—yes, you’re right I never loved you).  This type of banter only adds fuel to the fire of anger!  There will be those moments when your parent may refuse to speak to you, and this is a perfect time to let them know how you feel about the move.  Most children experience a sense of failure as they find they do not have the ability or skills to provide the care.  Sometimes sharing your emotions will help your parent but for the most part, it will help you.

Counseling (Photo credit: Alan Cleaver)
ü  Listen to the advice of the Nursing Home.  Once you have made your choice, engage the staff at the Nursing Home to help you.  As I stated earlier, they are trained and accustom to angry parents and they will have suggestions and techniques to help with the transition.  One of the toughest requests a Nursing Home will make is for you to stay away and have no contact for at least three days.  Some may find this request unsettling and some may find it a relief but I advise you to comply!
     This is the period where your parent will find they must rely on the staff for care and help.  Even the angriest parent knows the old adage “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”.  This period will not cure the anger toward you, but it will certainly help your parent acclimate and give you assurance.

ü  Don’t avoid the visits.  Once your parent has moved in and you are past the three day period (may be longer or shorter depending on the facility) make sure you make scheduled visits.  It’s tough when you know your parent is receiving good care to put yourself in a situation to deal with the anger, but you need to visit and you need to bring good cheer.  Be positive and happy on your visits and keep your parent occupied with family news and pictures.  If they are not receptive to your visit, make it short and relay as much positive feedback from the facility as you can to your parent and share whatever news from the family you can squeeze in and then give your parent a firm day and time you will return.

ü  Personalize your parent’s room as much as possible.  This can be tough as there is usually very limited space but try to place as many items that remind your parent of happier days as you can in the room.  Refer to the items and the joy they represent every time you visit.  If your parent isn’t speaking to you, then you will have something to speak to them about!

In the majority of cases, the anger will pass and it will happen much quicker than you may expect.  It will be rough at first but work through it with some of the suggestions above.  If the anger and hostility doesn’t subside in an acceptable time frame, consult the staff and your parent’s physician—it may be a sign of a more serious issue.  Once you have worked through the anger, leave it behind!  Focus on the future and the happiness or contentment your parent has achieved.

If would like a list of Assisted Living Facilities, Nursing Homes or any other type of Senior Facility, I hope you will consider
If you would like to contribute your thoughts and ideas, please leave them in our comment section. We want to hear them. Helping people care for themselves or their loved ones is what we care about. 

We look forward to reading yours.

Bob Gregory is an advocate for Seniors and is one of the founders of At, we are dedicated to helping families get the Elder Care help they need without having to provide their personal information! If find you need an assisted living facility or other type of senior facility, please consider

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  1. This is truly helpful since most adults are scared to transfer to a retirement community. It is their last move so they have a lot of fears and considerations. Most of them react this way at first but most of them who experienced living in 55 retirement communities have a change of heart once they stayed in the place for weeks.

  2. Choice of the right nursing home is important.Seniors may take time to adjust and cope up with feelings of anger and loneliness.Visiting your elderly loved one frequently and personalizing their room with familiar and favourite things could make a difference.Also a dedicated staff can make the nursing home stay relaxing and contended.

  3. Yes my mother is going through this transition stage as she has just moved into a nursing home. She has dementia and was no longer safe at home. I live over 2 hours away so brought her down to a nursing home near me. It is wonderful to be able to have real one to one time now but she is experiencing moments of terrible anger and is taking it out on me rather than anyone else in the family. This is because we have always been so close. When she asks, "why am I here" I answer because I wanted you near me to spend more time with you and I want you to be safe. I just keep repeating this over and over as it is true. Sometimes it placates the anger but other times I just let her rant a little. Took her out the other day in the car and told her that we were escaping. After 5 minutes she asked me to turn back home (nursing home) as she wanted to be safe and sound back home. When she becomes sad I ask her what do you really want. She usually answers to feel safe. This is the hardest thing that I have ever done and I just want to bundle her up and take her back to her home. However, that would be cruel as she was totally unsafe there and kept falling and ending up in hospital. The nursing home is wonderful and I researched the most suitable ones for hours, visiting each one in turn. I do not have children but the analogy that worked well for me is when a parent leaves a child at crèche for the first time. They may cry, howl and hold on tightly to you. After they become more comfortable they will saunter in with a wave and barely a backward glance. It takes time. So does the move to a nursing home.

  4. An fascinating discussion is value comment. I think that it is best to write extra on this matter, it won’t be a taboo topic however generally people are not enough to talk on such topics. To the next. Cheers
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