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COMMENTARY: Guilt about mother's care needs perspective

Carol Bradley Bursack

Dear Carol: Because of repeated strokes my mother couldn't live alone, so I moved her in with me. As years went by I struggled to transfer her from her wheelchair to her bed or commode so I tried in-home help. That didn't work, so I had to place her in a nursing home. The facility was excellent, and I was deeply involved yet I still feel guilty for not being able to keep Mom in my home until her death. Intellectually, I know that I wasn't capable of providing what she needed, but when I read about abuse and neglect of elders in nursing homes I feel like I'm being directly criticized. Do people ever get over the guilt from nursing home placement? — HE

Dear HE: Guilt seems to affect nearly anyone who has been involved in caring for a vulnerable person. It appears to go with the territory since perfection isn't an option for any care situation, yet perfection is the standard that we demand of ourselves.

What I find worrisome is that your guilty feelings seem to have increased due to the recent publicity around nursing home abuse. These terrible nursing homes need to be dealt with, and sadly there are many. What you don't see, though, are headlines about great nursing homes, and yes, they exist.

You were with your mother nearly every day and saw that she received excellent care. I believe that you'd have noticed signs of neglect or abuse. I had the same experience. During the considerable time spent at the nursing home where several of my family members lived, I was close to many of the staff which was comforting. If something was wrong they'd have noticed and so would I. Sadly, in some parts of the country, these wonderful homes are hard to find. We were both fortunate to have had good choices.

One thing to remember is that elder abuse happens in private homes, as well. Family caregiving abuse rarely makes headlines unless a death occurs or a visitor or bystander notices and reports something egregious, but my point is that abuse and/or neglect doesn't just happen in nursing homes. Ill-treatment can occur anywhere.

You did the best that you could and it sounds like your choices for your mom were on target. Few people could have done as much as you did, let alone more. Your mom needed more than you could provide, you recognized that fact and found the needed help for her. You visited nearly every day and oversaw her care. You were her advocate. You did all that you could.

As a caregiver, I know that I can let myself feel guilty about every little thing that I could conceivably have done better. You, too, will have these thoughts. I'd suggest, however, that if you find that these guilty thoughts are affecting your quality of life, counseling may be in order. A professional can help you through this rocky area so that you can gain perspective.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carolbursack@msn.com.

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