The Nursing Home Blues

Dear Barbara, My mom’s health is actually fairly good, her heart is strong and blood pressure is good. But she has been wanting to die for some time. We removed her from her home in July and the nursing home is not where she wants to be. She could no longer successfully maneuver and we feared for a fall. How do we handle someone who wants desperately to die but the end doesn’t seem to be in sight? Would appreciate any input....she is withdrawing and doesn’t participate in anything.

Your mom’s will to live is affected by the quality of her life. Her quality is diminishing, as is her independence (She had to move out of her home). Maybe the nursing home was the last straw. We need a purpose in life. Living with aging, living with physical challenges, and being in a nursing home all make it hard to find a purpose. What appears to me to be happening is your mother is unhappy with where her life is and she is voicing her unhappiness by saying she wants to die. Is saying “I want to die” the same as saying “I have no reason to live?” Perhaps.

Explore with her ways to adapt to the nursing home and her life as it is now. Introduce her to other nursing home residents. Maybe she is hesitant to reach out. Does she partake in any of the nursing home activities? Go with her a few times to help her break the ice. How often do you take her out to eat, to your home to visit, or to a movie? How can you help her find enjoyment in where life has brought her?

All of this said, all you can do is offer. If she refuses to venture out and become interactive then this is how she chooses to live her life: by wishing it was over. I would also have a talk with her. Tell her your concerns and ask how you can help her live a better life. Tell her you hear her unhappiness, and appreciate her difficulties. Ask her how the two of you can make things better.

As we get older, life presents us with different challenges. We adapt to them in the same way we have lived our life and dealt with all the challenges in our life up to this point---only our reactions become intensified. If we were withdrawn and not very social in our earlier living then as we get older we become more withdrawn, even less social. Think about how your mother dealt with unpleasant situations in her earlier living and magnify those reactions now.

You didn't mention dementia so my suggestions are based on clear mental awareness. If she has dementia that is a whole different approach. You might also check with her physician to see if an antidepressant is appropriate. She had a major life adjustment when she had to move out of her home. She may be severely depressed. I know I would be.

Something More About Nursing Home Blues...

My blog posts are initiated by the questions I am asked on my website. I also get questions on my FaceBook page, End of Life Care and Bereavement. Do you have a question about a loved one approaching end of life? Ask me!

8 comments

Ginny Robinson

Great response, Barbara!!
Went through this with my Mom….she only had to be at a nursing home because of blindness! One thing I did was to visit her for 3-4 days almost every month (I lived 700 miles away from her), and take her to a hotel for the weekend so she could get out of the setting. Also, called her every evening! This helped a great deal in the adjustment. But, I know she told me many times she did not want to live and did not know why she was. I would explore all the reasons she was living with her….and, it would help immensely. It was probably only about the last month before she died that I was not able to convince her that she still had a lot to live for. At that visit, we discussed what happens with dying and funeral plans, etc. Thank you Barbara for guidance I received at one of your seminars, to help discuss death with her!!

Dwight L Dulsky

Great advice!
As a hospice volunteer, I am in a lot of local nursing facilities in my area. I see a lot of variation in “life enrichment” activities Those coordinators, their enthusiasm and how they interact with residents can make a huge difference in the quality of nursing home life. Granted the ultimate choice of the resident to op in to these opportunities lies with them. It is difficult to find programming that fits all, but some of the best know the needs of the individual residents and try to meet that as best they can.

Terry Camper

" If she has dementia that is a whole different approach. " My mother is in a nursing home, has dementia, was almost at death’s door, so Hospice came in, and now she has recovered, but is still bed bound. I have so many questions and concerns, and Hospice seems to think she is fine as she is, because she has dementia, she is just on the ‘waiting list’…so to speak. I don’t know what activities to offer her, since she cannot really do much; cannot read, cannot focus on anything. She watches tv and we chat about what is happening as I feed her. My caregiver that gives me a rest lets her feed herself, but I feed her when I am there…it is what we do. Mom always wanted to be pampered and she is getting it now, and her behavior is so good. However, when I am not there, she has nothing to occupy her time, and often pulls her covers off, tosses them to the floor, and will shred the pages from any magazines I leave for her (she does that when she is stressed or aggitated). So, I suppose I am asking for ideas of how to occupy the mind of a dementia patient, other than tv…?

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