#22 – What happens if my mom in Chapel Hill, NC gets too sick to stay at home?

Click here to see the prior item in this series:  How do we find a nursing home?

What happens if my mother gets too sick to stay at home? She is terrified of ending up in an institution and has asked me to promise that I won’t “put” her in a nursing home. It is hard for me to figure out what to say.

If you are over 40, chances are you’ve had a similar conversation with someone you love. It might come up if you see a segment about nursing homes while watching the evening news. “I never want to be in a nursing home,” your mother says. This thought usually reflects what most of us want: to stay in our own homes, to maintain independence, to turn to family and friends for help.

Sometimes, however, parents want their adult children to promise that they won’t go to a nursing home. Think carefully before doing so. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, “Quality of care means doing the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, for the right person, and having the best possible results.”

Agreeing that you will not “put” someone in a nursing home may close the door to the right care option for your family. It requires you to know that no matter what happens you will be able to care for your parent. The fact is that for some illnesses and for some people, professional health care in a long-term care facility is the only reasonable choice.

When faced with a parent who is truly ill or frail, long-distance caregivers may find that some promises hamper their ability to do what is necessary, either for their own health or for their parent’s well being. Many people discover too late that promises they made (“Of course you will be able to die at home.”) cannot be kept.

Try to focus your commitments on what you know here and now. If asked to make a promise, you could say something like, “Dad, I will make sure you have the best care we can arrange. You can count on me to try and do what’s best for everyone. I can’t think of a situation where I’d walk out on you.” Base your promises and decisions on a realistic assessment of the current situation or diagnosis, and realize that you might need to revisit your agreement. Your father’s condition might change. Your circumstances might change.

You truly do not know what will happen in the future—disease and illness can necessitate enormous adjustments. And, of course, it’s not only your parent’s health that changes—your own health may alter over time.  If you’ve already made a promise to your parent, remember you can bring the subject up again. You can modify your answer to something more specific, something you feel you can undertake. As hard as that conversation might be, it may be better than risking the guilt of a promise not kept.

Click here to see the next item in this series:  What if Mom only has a few months to live?

Acorn wishes to acknowledge the National Institute on Aging for this valuable content.


Within Acorn’s service area of Chapel Hill, Durham and surrounding areas in North Carolina (Hillsborough, Pittsboro, Morrisville, Cary, and Apex) the following resources may be especially helpful:

  • Orange County Department on Aging, 2551 Homestead Road, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27516, (919) 968-2070
  • Durham Center for Senior Life, 406 Rigsbee Avenue – Suite 202, Durham, North Carolina   27701, (919) 688-8247
  • Chatham County Council on Aging, 365 North Carolina 87, Pittsboro, North Carolina   27312, (919) 542-4512
  • Triangle J Area Agency on Aging, 4307 Emperor Boulevard
- Suite 110, Durham, NC 27703, 919-558-2711
  • Resources for Seniors (Wake County), 1110 Navaho Dr.  – Suite 400, Raleigh, NC 27609, 919-872-7933