Moving into a new home is always stressful. I spent most of 2014 trying to move house, and I can testify to why it is generally considered to be one of the most stressful life events, alongside bereavement, divorce, major illness and losing your job.
Fortunately, at the end of our very protracted move was a lovely new home, and even unpacking became strangely exciting – the thrill of finding new places to keep treasured possessions. Some items had to be given to charity shops, but the vast majority of the things that we have accumulated over the years came with us. From the day we moved in we were able to close our front door to peace and quiet, our own space, our own choices of food and entertainment and a life of domesticity that is exactly how we want it to be.
There is a another kind of moving house, though, that is altogether different. A move that is more traumatic than most and yet remains shrouded in stigma: moving into a care home.
It’s the kind of move that is often not of the person’s choosing (although sometimes it is), where your personal ‘front door’ is just your bedroom door, where peace and quiet and sometimes even privacy are at a premium, where you live in extremely close proximity to numerous other people, and where complete personal choice around food, entertainment and daily life isn’t the norm for everyone. Perhaps even more significantly though, it is a move that doesn’t involve packing up every item you have accumulated over the years, but instead forces you to choose a select group of possessions – only as much as will fit into your bedroom.
As if the stress of the move itself isn’t enough, a move into a care home often also brings with it elements of those other most stressful life events for either the person or their immediate family.
- Bereavement: As I wrote about in my blog post ‘Decisions, decisions’, care homes are perceived by some people as being ‘God’s Waiting Room’. I vividly remember in one of my dad’s care homes, a new resident arriving on the morning when a much loved resident had just passed away after a short illness. Although the new resident’s arrival had been planned for some time and their room was in a different part of the home, there was something very thought-provoking for that family: they were settling their loved one in as the undertakers were arriving to collect the deceased. If nothing else, it reminds you of the fragility of life.
- Divorce: For some couples who have been together for most of their lives, the day one of them needs to move into a care home and the other remains in the family home is one of unspeakable heartbreak. In some ways it could be considered even more upsetting than divorce because it is almost always a decision forced upon the couple, where neither wants it to happen and in any other circumstances neither would ever instigate it. No matter how many hours you go on to spend in that care home with your partner, you no longer live together: your bed at night and your table for breakfast in the morning are now just for one.
- Major illness: This is one of the main reasons a loved one moves into a care home, and it is often the fact that that illness has progressed that makes the move necessary, certainly in the case of a person who is living with dementia. For many families this can also go back to the point about bereavement, with many relatives feeling a huge sense of loss.
- Losing your job: If you’ve been caring for a loved one who now needs specialist residential care, or indeed you can no longer cope as a carer, your loved one’s move into a care home – however much it may be needed – will permanently alter your way of life. You effectively lose your job as their primary carer overnight. For some people that may be a huge relief, but for many others it can leave them with feelings of hopelessness, lack of purpose and huge anxiety about how their loved one is being cared for in the care home.
Taking all of that into account, it puts the stress of the average house move – however stressful you think it is – into context. Moving into a care home isn’t just about changing your physical environment and leaving behind many of the items you have been surrounded with over the years; it also changes relationships and has an emotional element to it that you only really appreciate once you find yourself in that situation.
In many ways, I had that emotional toll softened by the fact that for the 3 moves my dad had into 3 different care homes over a 9 year period, each one meant a release from hospital, which was an infinitely more impersonal, regimented and clinical environment than any of those 3 care homes were. Had moving into a care home meant dad walking out of the family home, getting into a car and us driving him to a care home, it would have been far more emotionally difficult.
In my dad’s case the first move into a residential care home was possibly the most upsetting for him and for us – it came following a decision by dad’s care team that he couldn’t return home from hospital as he was considered at that time to be a danger to himself and others. The upset, however, was largely because of a fear of the unknown. We certainly weren’t sorry he was leaving hospital, and neither was dad.
The second move came after another spell in hospital, only this time dad had been there 3 months and lost half of his body weight. We just desperately wanted him to be in a more homely environment and be properly fed – it may sound a very basic aspiration but believe me, we were truly at our wits end with hospital care. The third move came at a time when dad was near the end of his life, and this time our desperation was for him not to die in hospital but instead to be somewhere as close to a home from home as possible.
And that’s the point, care homes really can be a lovely home from home if you are fortunate to find a good care home; a place where your loved one is happy and where together you make new friends that help you celebrate the happy times and comfort you in the sad ones. There are lots of negative stereotypes about what motivates families whose loved ones move into care homes, but being part of a care home community truly can be an enriching experience and, even if you are only an occasional visitor, it can be ‘Time well spent’.
For anyone feeling anxious about the impending move of a loved one into a care home, or indeed is feeling the emotional fallout (particularly guilt) after such a move, this Facebook status update from a lovely lady whose mum has just moved into a care home will hopefully make you smile as much as it made me smile when I read it:
“Just love the fact that I turn up to take mum out today and she tells me she can’t because her friends will miss her, and then tells me to go home because she’s busy”
Until next time…