Heart-rending guilt. That’s what I felt when the time came to place my mother in a nursing home. Even though I’ve worked for years helping families with similar situations and I have a nursing background, it felt terrible. When your heartstrings are attached, it’s a whole different ball game.

My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a year ago, last January. We’d noticed the typical signs of memory problems – she’d gotten lost on her way to a doctor’s appointment and was forgetting to pay bills. The illness progressed and when her doctor said she needed 24-hour care, my sister and I decided she would live with me. I did my best for 7 months, balancing my job, family life, and caregiving responsibilities. Everything I knew about the disease and how it affects families was now my reality too. It was a hard lesson in empathy.

Mom fought with me over bathing and changing her clothes. She fell, had UTIs, and was hospitalized several times. She lived with my sister for a time, but two days after moving in, she fell again and was hospitalized. At that point her doctor said she needed to be institutionalized.

What I hated was that from ages 6 – 18, my mother had lived in a children’s home. I hadn’t wanted her to spend her last years in an institution too. My hope was that she would be able to rehab when she first went to a skilled nursing facility, but that didn’t happen. She’s in a wheelchair now and because she can’t transfer, she doesn’t qualify for assisted living.

There were times I was called by staff because she was combative and refused to eat or take her meds. She still has issues at times, but with the right medication she is calmer now. She’s doing okay, even thriving. When I take a step back and view the situation from my nursing perspective, it is clear that she’s in the right place. She’s not isolated. She laughs more, socializes more, and while she’s delusional, her personality is better. I have said this to the families I help and it applies to my situation too: “Would you allow a 3 – 5 year old stay at home by themselves?” It’s just as risky for someone with advanced dementia to live at home, much as it may seem the “ideal” way to live out our years.