Common Reactions of an Adult Child to Moving a Parent Into a Nursing Home

A great deal of attention is paid to the reaction of an older person moving to a nursing home. Obviously, this represents a major transition for an elderly individual. The reality is that adult children of an older mother or father also experience significant emotional and other reactions to news of their parent moving into a nursing home. In this article, we spend time discussing some of the most commonplace reactions of adult children to their mother or father moving into a nursing home. These common reactions include:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Relief


One of the most common and pervasive emotions experienced by adult children as their parents move to a nursing home is fear. Fear falls upon adult children for a number of reasons, including the uncertainty of what life will be like for their parent in a nursing home setting, the response their parent will have now and later in regard to life in a nursing care facility, and fear associated with what the future holds for a parent and family more generally now that an older mother or father has arrived at this juncture in life.


Anxiety is a major emotional response experienced by children when their older parents with growing needs transition into a nursing home. Worry becoming anxiety can encompass a wide range of matters:

  • The move of the parent itself to a nursing home
  • Concern over family life going forward with a parent in nursing home care
  • Concern over paying for nursing home care now and into the future
  • Concern regarding a parent’s real feelings about moving into a nursing home
  • Many, many other matters associated with the transition of an older parent into nursing home care


Sadness, even profound sadness, can envelop the children of an older parent moving into a nursing home. This sadness can arise from the fact that an older individual is at a stage in life when nursing home care is necessary. Beyond that, sadness at this juncture in time can also arise from thoughts and memories of the past, including from as far back as childhood. Sadness can also arise over what might feel like a loss of what life with an older parent could have been had nursing home care not become a necessity. 


In some cases, adult children of an elderly parent heading into a nursing home can experience actual depression. Depression can set in for a number of adult children that endure sadness during this time period. It can also arise because of a belief that adult children are somehow letting their parents down as a result of their parents having to go into nursing home care. 


We just touched on the possibility that adult children can feel guilt when it comes to their parents moving into a nursing home. (We alluded to this is the discussion of depression that can arise when older mothers and fathers transition into nursing home care.) The guilt may arise from the feeling that adult children have not done enough for their parents. It may arise from feelings about problems that may have existed between children and parents throughout the course of their lives.


Unfortunately, the various emotions that adult children of older parents transitioning to living in a nursing home can devolve into a sense of shame. Shame can be associated with a sense of failing a parent when the time comes for a mother or father to be moved into a nursing home. If an adult child of an elderly parent transitioning to a nursing home begins to experience shame, a consideration really should be made about receiving assistance from a counselor or therapist. (As an important aside, if depression or anxiety do not abate in a relatively timely manner, professional assistance can also be a wise course.) 


Anger on the part of adult children can also arise when older parents are moved to a nursing home. Initially, an adult child might really regret feeling anger when a parent must move to a nursing home. The reality is that anger is a natural response when an older parent is at a juncture that nursing home care is a necessity. What is not normal is if that anger doesn’t abate or lessen in a reasonable period of time. Anger can be another emotion that may call for professional assistance if it doesn’t tamp down and dissipate in a reasonable period of time.


Yet another common reaction among adult children to an older parent moving into a nursing home resentment. One for resentment at this time can be associated with a realization that there will be some limitations regarding what an older parent can do with that adult child and other family members once life in a nursing home commences.


Ultimately, adult children of older parents moving into a nursing home may experience a sense of relief. Relief can occur because children ultimately understand that a proper decision has been made in regard to where an aging parent resides. Relief occurs because adult children come to realize that their parents are in a safe environment and receiving needed care. 

In conclusion, it is important to stress that all of these emotions and responses are understandable and normal, generally speaking. If these emotions and responses devolve to the level that they become unduly troublesome or unduly impede an individual’s life, assistance can be found from professional assistance from an experienced counselor or therapist.