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. It was clearly time for him to transition to a place closer to me, where I could be sure he was well taken care of.
So… what to do when your elderly parent refuses to move? First, unless it’s a medical or cognitive necessity, don’t force things. Treat them like an adult – never say they must move because they are old! Allow them a sense of control and time to process the idea. Meanwhile, research places they might like and take them to see them. Focus on the benefits of a move. Explain how much their move will help you.
How To Talk To Elderly Parents About Moving
On the surface, when an elderly parent declines to move, it can seem like they are just being old and stubborn. Some recent studies, however, show 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.
I used the following tips on my dad and he eventually agreed to move to an assisted living facility nearby.
This was not an quick or easy change for both of us but it truly ended up making things so much easier for us. Not only was he much closer to me (no more 1 way hour long drives every week whenever he needed me) but I felt better knowing that he was living in a place that could keep an eye on him.
It wasn’t easy for him (and it may not be easy for your parents) but believe me, it can work out to be a wonderful change.
Stay Calm And Don’t Force Things
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.
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. This means they have the right to make their own decisions about relocating even if you don’t agree with them.
Treat Them Like The Adults They Are
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.
So, talk to your parents about moving in a way that honors them.
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.
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. 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.
“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.”
–Michelle Barnhart, Oregon State University researcher
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.
There was a steep hill behind their house. Even I had a hard time climbing it, much less my father.
The hill had gotten weedy, so Dad decided to clear the weeds. Each week, he made a point of showing me how much he’d cleared since my last visit. He completely ignored my protests and “what ifs.”
Allow Your Parent To Have a Sense Of Control
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.
Give Your Senior Parents Time To Process The Need To Move
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.
Research Some Places THEY Might Like
It certainly would not be uncommon for your elderly parent to refuse assisted living. Growing older can be very frightening and facing the possibility of losing the life you’ve known for decades can be overwhelming.
Keep in mind that this isn’t about you. Don’t look for the resort-like facility that you’ve imagined for your future if it isn’t something that appeals to your parent.
For example, when Dad finally approved his move, we all agreed on an upscale independent senior community. However, for a man who’d spent a lifetime earning a modest wage, the price of his little apartment made him very uncomfortable. Although reassured that his money would outlast him, he just couldn’t get past the cost.
He was much happier when we moved him to a less ritzy, more cost-effective senior apartment the following year.
Because I listened to his concerns – he was much more accepting of his new home situation and that made his last years with me truly wonderful.
Take Your Elderly Parents To See The Places You’ve Found And Focus On Their Benefits
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, 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.
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 if he fell or became ill.
Explain How Much Their Move Will Help You – Their Loving Child
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.
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.
If You Are Frustrated Or Feel Helpless – Be Sure To Take Care Of Yourself
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).
How can I help my elderly parent stay at home? Make their home as safe as possible. Install handrails in bathrooms, put in shower seats. Eliminate clutter in hallways and stairwells. Remove or replace worn, curling carpet and linoleum. Ensure smoke/carbon monoxide detectors work. Have your parent wear an emergency calling device. Arrange food delivery. Be sure medicine is taken on time.
How do I get my elderly parents into assisted living? Make a mutual decision to move to assisted living. How much can your parent afford for a facility? Research places in their price range. Visit them with your parents and choose the best place together. Reassure them that moving into assisted living is a good decision.
If you just can’t get your parents to move, read these articles for ideas on how to keep them safe at home:
How To Fall Proof A Home For Elderly Parents
Are Throw Rugs Dangerous For Seniors?
Fire Safety Tips For Seniors
How To Make The Bathroom Safe For Your Elderly Parents
Does Medicare Pay For Any Home Health Care?