Adjusting to a New Normal
Once the first tentative days and weeks in a care home have passed, families begin adjusting to this new way of life or living for themselves and their relative.
For some family members, this heralds the start of a less stressful period, where some of the pressures and often emotional challenges of the previous weeks, months or even years before their relative moving into the new home begin to ebb away, with calmer and more positive feelings emerging. For other family members, there may be remaining affairs to attend to, such as their relative’s property to sell or other legal matters to attend to.
However members of a family unit are feeling when the initial ‘newness’ of their loved one living in a care home passes, the care team are there to offer support.
Whilst traditionally, family members were regarded as ‘visitors’ to a care home, in the social care sector, we increasingly recognise the importance of enabling families to continue, redefine, and discover their own role in the home. For some family members who have provided care to their relative prior to them moving to the care home, an important element of adjusting to this new way of living may be to retain some or many of those responsibilities. There is no reason why the staff team cannot make it possible for a resident’s daughter or son to continue supporting their relative during personal care or to take them clothes shopping, for example, particularly if these are established and positive practices. Conversely, for some family members, the essence of a loved one moving into a care home is to let someone else take responsibility for such routines, allowing for the relationship to have a different focus, which will also be respected and supported.
What some family members find surprising during this period of adjusting to a new way of living and being with their loved one is that some of the less positive emotions and feelings that may have been present during the first days and weeks, for example, feeling guilty or very sad may not ease, or may be replaced with other unhelpful feelings such as feeling worried about visiting their loved one in the care home.
If this happens, family members need to try to find a way of working through these safely and effectively. Although some Avery care homes facilitate a Memory Café, where family members, and sometimes people with dementia from the local community, can come together in a supportive environment to share experiences and find mutual support, this type of forum doesn’t suit everyone. As family members will naturally experience different emotions and feelings, support and coping needs will also differ during this time. The home manager of the care home is an ideal resource to provide information on resources where support is available for family members, whether practical information about dementia and how a person is affected over time or by providing links to helplines or web content that family members may find helpful.