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My Mother Is Not Adjusting To Assisted Living

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upset senior woman at an assisted living facility

Putting your mother in assisted living was a decision made with much care and deliberation.

You and the rest of your adult siblings thought this would be the best place for her, but she hasn’t adjusted as well as you hoped. How do you handle this?

If your mother hasn’t adjusted to assisted living, the best thing you can do is give it time.

Begin visiting more often and ask your mom about her biggest concerns.

Try to resolve these, but if you can’t, or the situation doesn’t approve, you might have to reconsider your mom’s living situation.

You’re not alone if your aging parent hasn’t acclimated to assisted living.

Fortunately, you have plenty of options for helping them adjust before deciding if moving them out of the facility is the best idea.

This guide will explore them all, so let’s get started.  

Help! My Parent Wants To Leave Assisted Living

An assisted living community offers older adults more independence than a nursing home, but in your mother’s eyes, nothing beats her independent living arrangement back in her own home. 

Her unhappiness has grown to the point where she now talks about wanting to leave assisted living all the time (or you’re worried she’ll get kicked out because she’s being belligerent).

You may also notice these other symptoms.

  • Reduced functioning: If your mother is staunchly independent, she might struggle to ask for help. This can impede her ability to complete daily tasks, such as using the toilet, eating, or getting around readily. 
  • Isolation: Does your mother spend most of her time in her room, refusing to take part in social activities or getting to know her fellow residents? She could be in denial of her situation, or she might be depressed and anxious, which is making her withdrawn.
  • Unhappy staff reports: Ask the staff members at the assisted living facility how your mother is doing. If they report she complains a lot, refuses care, and is generally unhappy, and especially if several staffers say this, that’s indicative a problem is afoot.
  • Depression and/or anxiety: A change in your mother’s environment could trigger depression and/or anxiety. She might express feeling worthless and hopeless, experience changes to her sleeping patterns, have an increased or reduced appetite, and seem more irritable or reserved than usual.

Do these symptoms necessarily mean assisted living was a mistake for your mother? That depends on how long she’s lived in the facility.

If she’s a new resident in a senior living community and she’s noticeably struggling, that’s understandable.

She’s likely lived on her own for her entire adult life, and now she’s been forced to leave the home she loves.

She might feel disconnected from her community and resentful about losing her independence. 

As we said in the intro, time is the best medicine here. Your mother should adjust if given the opportunity, but it won’t happen overnight. 

What if you moved your mother into assisted living months ago, and every time you see or speak to her, all she talks about is leaving? 

We’ll recommend some assisted living adjustment tips a little later in this guide.

If you’ve tried every one of those and she’s still not acclimated, you might consider investigating the care she’s receiving.

If she’s being mistreated or neglected, that could cause her to be unhappy with her living situation.

Seniors don’t always report abuse or neglect out of fear of retaliation, but you can sometimes tell if abuse is occurring. 

She may have unexplained injuries, lapses in her care, sudden behavioral and/or emotional changes, and mood shifts. 

What if you’ve deduced that your senior mother’s care in assisted living is sufficient but she’s still unhappy?

At that point, you and your adult siblings might reconsider her living situation if it’s financially feasible.

How Long Does It Take For The Elderly To Adjust To Assisted Living?

We mentioned that time is usually all that’s required for an older adult to adjust to assisted living, but precisely how much of an adjustment period are we talking about here?

It will take at least three months for a senior to adapt to their new living situation, possibly twice that long.

Some seniors need even more than six months to adjust, although most will have accepted their situation by then. 

Encourage them to get out and socialize; hiding in their room won’t help them get used to their new surroundings and new routine.

It can feel isolating and lonely for your parent the first weeks, if they don’t actively seek socializing.

Reader’s Digest

We once again invite you to investigate your senior parent’s circumstances if longer than six months have elapsed and they still seem miserable in assisted living.

However, if no wrongdoing has occurred, try doubling down on your efforts to try to help them adapt. 

How To Help Elderly Parents Adjust To Assisted Living

Here are some tactics for easing your elderly parent into her new environment.

Understand that “relocation stress” is common in seniors transitioning to new environments. Symptoms can include confusion and anxiety, so having a trusted loved one around may reduce these emotions in seniors.

A Place For Mom

Visit Often

Some adult children assume that if they visit an older parent during their first weeks in their new surroundings too much, it won’t help them adjust. There is some logic in that.

However, staying away is just as bad as being a helicopter son/daughter. 

Make your presence meaningful by visiting several times per week during the transition period, but not every day.

You might stop by every two days or limit your visits to weekly if you have other responsibilities like work and/or childcare.

When my father moved out of his old home and into his new community, he was very intimidated about it.

My mother had always been the outgoing one who started new friendships with ease, while he tagged along.

Now, she had passed and he was going to have to make this major life change on his own.

So I made a point to make frequent visits (daily for the first 10 days).

We went to the dining room for meals where he could meet his new neighbors and I could break the ice for him.

I think it also was helpful for his peace of mind to know that I was there to support him through such a big change.

I started reducing my visits towards the middle of the second week because I could see that some of the residents were starting to look for him at dinner (which meant he was making friends).

Most people won’t have that much time to give for regular visits during their parent’s adjustment to their new situation, but I would highly recommend it if you are able.

Think of how scary it might be if it was YOU moving into a new facility where you knew no one and nothing was familiar!

That said – when you can’t visit, you don’t have to go no-contact. Phone calls to your mother (or encouraging her to pick up the phone) will allow her to talk to you whenever she needs to. 

Get Friends And Family Involved

Your senior parent had a rich life outside of her immediate family, and she may be grieving the loss of those relationships now that she’s in assisted living.

However, none of those familial relationships or friendships have to end. Ask other family members, your mother’s friends, and community members to visit. 

If they can’t make it to her new home, they should call or FaceTime.

Your mother should adjust easier knowing that she still has the love and support of her favorite people even though she isn’t living at home anymore.

Create A Cozy Environment

Your mother might not have decorated her apartment or room out of depression or lack of ability to do so. Offer to help her gussy the new space up to her liking. 

I’m talking about going shopping for new things, as opposed to having a lot of familiar items around.

While some people do well with a transition like this if they surround themselves with personal items or decorative items they bring from their former home, many people view them as a reminder of the life that is now gone from their grasp.

For that reason, it may not be a good idea to try to replicate her old home environment, as that could foster more unhappy feelings.

Instead, the best choice might be to create something new and appealing. 

Yes, having a few personal items from a former home is fine, but just understand that your parent may do better with new things.

Plan Fun Activities

Speak to the assisted living facility’s activities director about what kinds of activities and social events are on tap.

If there’s something on the calendar you know your mother would enjoy, try to get her involved, even if you have to be there.

This will help her realize that assisted living isn’t all bad. Also, who knows? She might just meet other seniors who enjoy the same hobbies and interests and make new friends. 

Talk Honestly 

Although you should encourage your mother to give assisted living a chance, you should request her honest opinion of how she’s feeling at least once a week. 

Be Patient

We can’t stress enough that patience is critical when moving a senior parent into assisted living. 

Expect to hear nothing but negativity in the first few days, as going from independence to assisted living is a huge transition.

Your mother will still have her bad days, just as she did when she was back home. Sometimes, she might have a pang of longing for her old life, even if she’s been in the assisted living facility for a while. 

That’s perfectly normal but that doesn’t mean she should leave assisted living.

You also shouldn’t pull her out if it’s only been a month or two and she’s still having a hard time.  Give it at least six months, then revisit it.

Tell her as much and encourage her to give assisted living a fair try. 

When Is Assisted Living Not Appropriate?

Assisted living facilities are an excellent choice for many seniors, but some should not go into this type of senior community as they need a higher level of care.

To wrap up, let’s review some scenarios in which a senior needs skilled nursing care in a nursing home or other care rather than assisted living.

Severe Physical Issues

A senior with some physical mobility, chronic pain, and basic medical conditions is a good candidate for assisted living care.

However, older adults with more severe physical conditions or disabilities will need greater care than what an assisted living facility can provide. 

A nursing home or in-home nurse would suit their situation better.

Advanced Dementia

While you could move a senior with dementia into assisted living, know that the arrangement would be temporary.

As their condition worsens, a memory care facility would be a better fit for dementia patients, as the medical staff there are prepared to deal with the rigors of advanced memory loss. 

Around-The-Clock Care 

Assisted living is designed to give seniors a modicum of independence. It’s not as much as they had when they lived at home, but it’s more than what they’ll receive in a nursing home, as we said. 

Any elderly person that needs more advanced care, especially around-the-clock care, should not live in assisted living. Instead, they should explore a nursing home, an in-home caretaker, or hospice. 


It’s frustrating when your mother won’t adjust to assisted living.

However, you must be willing to give her time, ideally between three and six months. If she still hasn’t gotten used to it by then, you might look into other options.

In the meantime, visit her often, ask other family and friends there to visit as well, decorate her space according to her preferences, and try to get her involved in assisted living activities.

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