Q My father has dementia and I can no longer care for him. I feel very guilty about putting him in a care home. How can I manage these feelings of guilt?
All over the country there are family caregivers coping with the same dilemma. It’s something Duncan had to face when his wife Lynne fell backwards down their stairs, even though he was guiding her. Friends at church pointed out that he was not a professional carer and that she would be safer in a care home – in this case our local home, Framland, in Wantage.
Safety is often the tipping point in caring for a loved one with dementia, either the person with dementia or the caregiver’s. Duncan wasn’t racked with guilt when Lynne went into the care home, because he knew that she would be safe and would receive expert, loving care. But for many people, even knowing that their loved one is well cared for doesn’t dissipate the guilt.
Beneath it is the thought that you’ve failed to look after your father and that he will be worse off in the home. It comes from not fully understanding the nature of the disease, particularly the end stage, or the value of residential care. If your father had cancer that had advanced to the point where he needed to go somewhere for specialist treatment you wouldn’t feel guilty, because you know that you’re not capable of providing that treatment. It’s the same with dementia. Dementia is caused by physical (chemical) damage to the brain, and there comes a stage where the patient needs expert care from a team of trained carers. The care they give is the treatment.
There is also the importance of being with others. Studies show that our neuronal circuitry responds to other people more than anything else. We are made in God’s image, designed for relationship, and this is enabled in our care homes. We also have specially trained ‘Hummingbirds’, carers who interact with those living with dementia to keep them engaged and stimulated.
Relieved of the intensity of caring day and night, caregivers’ health improves, and they are better able to cope with life. And remember, nothing can separate us from the love of God, including dementia.