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What To Do When Your Elderly Parent Refuses To Move

Adult son trying to convince his elderly father to move.

When my mom passed away, my elderly father would not move out of the house they’d shared.

At age 94 he was in very good health but was beginning to show signs of mild dementia which made it unsafe for him to live alone.

These points can serve as a guide for families navigating the complex and often sensitive task of discussing future living arrangements with elderly parents.

When it comes to our elderly parents, we want what’s best for them. We want them to be happy and healthy, and to enjoy a good quality of life.

But sometimes, our parents can be resistant to change. They may not want to move to a smaller home, even if it would be easier for them to take care of.

It can drive you crazy!

When your elderly parent refuses to move, open a respectful dialogue to understand their concerns. Discuss the benefits and risks of their decision and gently introduce the idea of assisted living. Keep communication open and consider professional advice if needed. (source: Eddy Senior Living Communities)

14 Strategies To Use If Your Elderly Parent Refuses To Move

These strategies can help you, as a family caregiver and your elderly parent to come to a resolution on the issue of moving.

If your elderly parent has dementia, here are tips on how to move someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s.

1. Understand That It’s Not Personal

When dealing with resistant behavior in a loved one, especially in cases like Alzheimer’s, it’s important to depersonalize the behavior and understand it’s not intended to cause trouble.

View resistance as a form of nonverbal communication, often rooted in fear or discomfort.

For instance, a person with Alzheimer’s might resist bathing due to fear of being naked or enclosed.

They may also react defensively to their loss of ability or suggestions of incompetence, as acknowledging their condition can be terrifying.

Understanding the underlying reasons for their behavior can help in addressing the issue more effectively. (source: Careforth.com)

2. Listen To Your Parents And Try To Understand Their Resistance

Recognize the emotional and psychological factors that contribute to an elderly parent’s reluctance to move, such as fear of losing independence or attachment to the home.

Listening to the reasons your parents may be resisting the idea of moving can help you to understand what they are thinking and going through.

This can give you an insight into what is important to them and you can then have an honest conversation about what is important to you as well.

There are many issues that can affect why your parents may be reluctant to move, fear of change, anxiety over new surroundings, leaving friends, etc.

Many seniors get frightened at the prospect of leaving home, and resent being told what to do by their children.

Landmarkhealth.org

On the surface, when an elderly parent declines to move, it can seem like they are just being old and stubborn.

A study from Oregon State, however, showed that a senior’s unwillingness to relocate often has less to do with being crotchety. It is more about how they think they are being viewed by others.

Here are some tips on what to do if your elderly parent aren’t listening to YOU.

3. Stay Calm, Be Patient And Don’t Force Things

Maintain a steady and adaptable approach, understanding that convincing your parent may require multiple conversations and strategies over time. Take a few deep breaths before you speak. (source: Harvard Business Review)

You know that old saying, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”? That adage applies to this situation.

Your parent is used to being independent and in control of their life. It’s often very difficult for seniors (and most anyone at any age) to face the harsh reality that they may be at a stage in their lives where they need help.

They may decide that in-home care would be a better option for them. Be open to that possibility.

As they say, timing is everything. Don’t bring up moving when your parents are already stressed or when you are feeling helpless or frustrated.

Stubborn though they may be, your elderly parents are adults who want to make their own choices.

This means they have the right to make their own decisions about relocating even if you don’t agree with them.

4. Effective Communication

Engage in open, empathetic, and honest conversations to understand your parent’s perspective and to express your concerns clearly.

Often, it isn’t what you say, but how you say it. When you are talking to your elderly parents about moving, don’t be condescending.

For example, after my mom’s brain tumor diagnosis, my sister started treating Mom like a five year old. True, Mom now needed a wheelchair, but her mind was still sharp.

My sister’s manner of speech drove Dad up a wall. “She’s terminal, not in kindergarten,” he’d growl under his breath. (This is known as “elderspeak”) (source: law.marquette.edu)

So, talk to your parents about moving in a way that honors them. In the long run, this attitude will help you with future decisions.

Ask questions about why they don’t want to move and you’ll begin to see things from their perspective.

Here is just a sampling of the kinds of questions you can be asking:

  • Are you afraid to move?
  • What would you be giving up if you move?
  • Would you be more independent in the new place?

Be empathetic to their situation (how would YOU feel if you felt you were being forced to move?) and listen to their concerns. Give them time to mull everything over.

5. Don’t Make Them Feel Like They Have To Move Because They Are Old

Although Dad was 94 when Mom passed away, he looked and acted ten years younger. He hated being seen as “old” and prided himself on the fact that he had no health problems.

Additionally, he was strong and steady and didn’t use a cane or a walker. He still drove, worked in the yard, shopped for groceries, and cleaned the house.

There are many reasons for “irrational behavior.” Your parent may be unable to rationalize due to cognitive changes, or their preferences may simply be different than yours. 

Geriatric Social Worker Sarah Pappas, LLMSW

I made a big mistake when I suggested that he needed to move because the house was going to be too much for him to take care of.

The Oregon State study I mentioned in section 1 notes, “Conflicts come up when someone does not think of themselves as old, but people in their family or caregiving group are treating them as such.”

The flip side of my suggestion was that Dad’s identity was threatened. He set out to prove he was more than capable of taking care of himself and the house – by engaging in risky behavior such as weeding the lawn which was on a slope.

6. Allow Your Parent To Have a Sense Of Control

Ensure that your parent feels respected and involved in the decision-making process, maintaining their sense of control and dignity. (source: Huffpost.com)

Be persistent about moving without being obnoxious. It’s not helpful if you continually argue with your parent about the subject.

Sometimes arguments are a way for elderly parents to vent frustration about being thought old or incapable.

Instead, calmly voice your concerns, then offer a solution. In my dad’s case, I was most worried about him eating enough and not eating spoiled food.

He’d lost weight and couldn’t seem to grasp the concept of tossing out food after a certain time frame.

After repeated bouts of stomach troubles from eating expired food, he and I talked about ways to avoid more problems.

I listed several ideas (Meals on Wheels, food delivery, etc.), all of which he turned down.

At that point, he grudgingly agreed that eating in a cafeteria-style setting in a senior community could be a way to stay healthy.

7. Give Your Senior Parents Time To Process The Need To Move

Initiate conversations about future care needs early on, discussing hypothetical situations and establishing necessary legal directives like power of attorney.

I made a big mistake in not talking to my dad about moving soon after my mother was diagnosed with her terminal illness.

I didn’t want to add to his distress (or mine, frankly) by discussing life after she was gone. But I really should have planted the seed.

If I had begun dropping hints, he’d have had more time to get used to the idea and he might have seen the merit in it earlier than he did.

As it was, once food became an issue that he couldn’t sidestep, he started thinking more positively about moving. At least he knew he’d be fed properly.

8. Explore Other Living Options With Them

Collaboratively investigate different living arrangements or care options, including assisted living facilities and in-home care services.

In my dad’s case, he’d already accepted that food was an issue he couldn’t resolve on his own. He had a difficult time making his own meals.

He had trouble mastering the microwave (my mother was always in charge of the kitchen) and he was succumbing to simply eating prepared meals and fast food.

Both of which I knew were not good for his health.

When we toured the assisted living facility that we ultimately chose, they comped us a meal in their dining room so we could sample their menu.

It was delicious – more like restaurant quality than the tasteless fare Dad had anticipated.

Also, they had piano entertainment before dinner. It focused on the Big Band and swing songs of Dad’s era.

He loved to sing and that evening, the music further broke down his resistance to moving. I truly enjoyed seeing him enjoy himself.

It’s important to take into consideration the amount of help they need and/or may need when deciding on moving to a facility such as an assisted living type of community.

None of us knows the future. Our parents have visions of the crowded, smelly nursing homes that existed decades ago, before regulations were put in place to protect residents and employees. The very idea of moving to a nursing home is unthinkable to them, but the truth is that these long-term care facilities have made leaps and bounds since most people last visited one.

Agingcare.com

9. Emphasize The Consequences If They Don’t Move

Sometimes even after you’ve laid the groundwork, your senior parents may still refuse to move. If all your carefully laid plans are still failing, it’s time to bring out the big guns.

In Dad’s case, he could see the benefits of a move begin to add up.

He lived alone and often saw no one all week until my next visit. That meant no social interaction for a man who had always been surrounded by friends.

In addition, his home backed up to that stupid hill I talked about earlier. If he fell in the backyard, no one would know for hours until we couldn’t get hold of him and went to check.

Living in a senior community meant friends and activities to keep him busy every day. It also gave us both peace of mind that he’d have near-instant help and access to medical care if he fell or became ill.

10. Explain How Much Their Move Will Help YOU

With time, a parent’s love for their child will often overcome their objections.

My dad lived 40 miles (one way) from me. I worked full time and pointed out how hard it would be for me to make daily 80 mile round trips to take care of him if he was sick or in the hospital.

I really was worried that he would fall and lay there for hours before I could get to him, so we talked about my fears many times.

Dad could barely boil water, so I’d also spent the year after Mom’s passing cooking, baking, and bringing him food that he could simply heat and eat.

He knew this was a burden for me and I played up that point.

I told him how much easier it would be for me if he moved into a senior independent apartment and could go to a dining room for his meals, not to mention the friends he would make.

Once your parent is ready to move, our moving tips and checklist will help.

11. Professional Involvement

Seek advice from healthcare professionals, social workers, or elder care specialists to provide expertise and facilitate discussions.

12. Accept That You Might Not Convince Them To Move

Thankfully, my dad finally accepted that it was best for everyone if he moved.

For more stubborn parents, it might be helpful to enlist their doctor’s intervention to advise them to move.

We also have some tips that you may find helpful in our article, What To Do When Elderly Parent Refuses Help.

It might also work to have the moving conversation with trusted friends or family members. Your parent(s) may listen if someone else points out how beneficial a move would be.

Sometimes, however, a senior parent will refuse to relocate no matter how much they need to. In these cases, you may just have to accept their decision.

Meanwhile, do the best you can to help them as much as you can. You can always “sprinkle” hints into conversations or bring up the subject of moving again when another opportunity comes up.

13. Building a Support Network

Create a circle of support around your parent, including family, friends, and community resources, to provide a sense of security and assistance.

14. If You Are Frustrated Or Feel Helpless – Be Sure To Take Care Of Yourself

Acknowledge and address the stress that comes with caregiving, seeking support groups or counseling to manage caregiver strain. (source: Family Caregiver Alliance)

Trust me, as much as you love them, elderly parents can be frustrating, especially when they dig in their heels and refuse to do something that is clearly in their best interests.

In cases like these, you can find help (and a safe space to vent) in a support group for caretakers of senior parents. Do an online search for forums or check for groups on Facebook.

It also helps to spend time with friends or indulge in your favorite hobby so you can get your head out of the situation with your parents.

Another way to help reduce stress is to begin a yoga or mediation practice. Bottom line: take care of yourself so you can be there for your parents (and can keep up with your own needs).

You can read more about guardianship and power of attorney in our article What Is Guardianship Of An Elderly Parent?

We know this is a difficult topic for many families and we do hope that we have given you some tips on how to tackle it.

2 Comments

  1. Afton Jackson

    Making sure that I communicate with my father more to tell him what he can get from a retirement facility is quite important for sure. I think that’s one way I can tell him what he can expect so that he won’t feel like he’s going to a boring and dull place when he retires. I’ll make sure that I do this when I find a retirement living facility in the area where he can get some help.

    • Esther C. Kane, C.D.S.

      A neighbor of mine spent a year visiting assisted living facilities in the area. I think she ended up going to about 6 or 7, not sure. Anyway, once she decided which ones she thought she liked, then she started going to them for a meal or just to visit to see what the place was like. She actually ended up making a friend or two at some of these places. After the year, she decided on one of them and she’s been very happy ever since. She feels safer, her family feels good that she’s being looked after. It’s a win-win for everyone.

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