Parent Wants to Leave the Nursing Home: 6 Tips


Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

The dreaded words, “I want to go home” can strike fear in most families, no matter who is saying it. Just when you think things are settled and you have your loved one in a safe and caring environment, they say they want to leave. You may have worked hard to pick a good place for your parent to live and thrive, and now they say they want to leave.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Before making a hasty decision, read our tips on ways to address this request. No matter what your feelings may be, discussing the topic with openness and compassion may lead to a better understanding of what is working well and what is not.

With all the information on the table, you and your parent can reach a consensus on what is best.

Can You Take Your Parent Out of a Nursing Home or Assisted Living?

If your parent agrees or you have guardianship of your loved one, you can move them out of a nursing home or assisted living. It is important to remember that residing in either a nursing home or assisted living is voluntary.

So before you start the process, here are some things to consider:

  • Do you have a safe and affordable alternative? Home care for many can be a viable choice but it can also be costly, especially if your parent needs significant care. If your parent has been in a nursing home for a while, it can be a challenge to replace 24-hour nursing.
  • Most assisted living communities offer a month-to-month payment arrangement but may require advance notice to leave. You might want to make sure you are not leaving money on the table by not giving adequate notice.
  • If you and your parent decide to try a different assisted living or nursing home, make sure to develop a vetting process. Include your parent in tours and discuss choices together.

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Tips for Dealing With a Parent Who Wants to Leave Assisted Living or a Nursing Home

Before you panic, take a step-by-step approach to your parent’s request to leave assisted living or a nursing home. You might be able to avoid a move by taking in all relevant information and sussing out the reasons or issues at hand. 

1. Find out why

It can be tricky when your parent no longer wants to live in a nursing home or in assisted living. Try talking to your parent and spending time with them at the nursing home to find out why they want to leave. Some possibilities include:

  • Poor care. Assisted living communities can look glossy and pretty on the outside, but that doesn’t mean they might not have problems. Nursing homes in particular can have very high staff turnover and inadequate infection control. These issues have been exposed and exacerbated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Problems with other residents. Care communities are not immune to petty and rude residents. Your parent may feel bullied, left out of activities, or avoided at mealtimes. 
  • Loneliness. Even with a ready-made social environment, your parent may experience loneliness. They may miss seeing you and their grandkids, or miss familiar friends. Perhaps they haven’t found the right people for them to connect with. 
  • Homesickness. There is no place like home. After years of living in a home filled with memories, making the adjustment to congregate living can be tough. Downsizing is almost always necessary before moving into assisted living or a nursing home. And getting rid of important mementos or other cherished items can be emotionally draining. 
  • The food. This might seem like a minor complaint, but it is a big one. Food choices are becoming more diverse and individualized, but most nursing homes and assisted living communities don’t have much flexibility. Food can symbolize a big loss of choices and independence. 
  • Cognitive impairment. If your parent has dementia, the transition to assisted living, memory care, or a nursing home, can be challenging. They may experience fear, confusion, and anger over moving from their home to a strange and unfamiliar environment. 

2. Listen

Before making any decisions, try to listen to your parent. Think of listening as a process or journey of discovery about what makes your parent happy, and what disappoints them. Through listening, you will discover many things both big and small, that are causing their discontent and unhappiness. 

Some of what you hear you won’t be able to fix, but an empathetic and compassionate ear can go a long way towards diffusing the situation. Sometimes the desire to leave is really a desire to be heard and acknowledged. 

3. Discuss the consequences

When your parent says they want to leave assisted living or a nursing home, they may not be thinking things through. It is common for older adults to underestimate the amount of care that they need. We suggest gently and respectfully identifying the caregiving responsibilities that will have to be replaced if they leave. If the family is not available to provide this care, let your parent know.

Here are some of the things you may want to remind them of when having this conversation:

  • Transportation to all appointments will have to be provided.
  • Assistance with bathing and dressing
  • Nursing care such as blood pressure checks wound, or diabetic care
  • Meal preparation
  • Help with mobility and transfers
  • In cases where physician services are provided on-site, those visits will have to be scheduled at a clinic or via telehealth.
  • Activities and social events

4. Solve the problem

Depending on what the problem is, try to solve it. As mentioned above, there can be many different types of problems, but if listening only provides some support, you will be asked to help solve the problems at hand. Here are some solutions to consider:

  • Poor care. Talk with the administrator or director of nursing about care concerns. Ask that specific care staff be replaced if possible. Don’t be afraid to be the squeaky wheel and persist until your concerns are addressed. 
  • Problems with other residents. Inappropriate behavior and bullying should be immediately addressed by the administrator. Ask for other residents to become involved by providing friendship and advocacy for your parent if they are feeling ostracized. For all the problem residents, there are usually many more kind and generous ones. 
  • Loneliness. Consider visiting more often than you do now. Bring the grandkids and make an event out of the visit by coming at mealtime or celebrating a birthday with your parent. If visits aren’t possible, arrange for Facetime or other video conferencing options to check-in. Another option is to ask the activities director to pay particular attention to your parent. Suggest some activities you know they would like and appreciate. Ask the activities director to introduce your parent to other residents. 
  • Homesickness. Sometimes this can’t be solved. Your parent’s home might have been sold. One idea is to reminisce or look at photo albums together. Acknowledge the loss, but don’t dwell on it. Do what you can to personalize the space they have in assisted living or a nursing home. Bring pictures of the family to put in the room. Keep your parent involved by sharing significant family events. 
  • The food. Ask your parent what kind of food they would prefer. There are several companies that will deliver home-cooked meals to their doorstep, adding variety and quality. This service doesn’t have to be provided every day. 2-3 times a week may suffice.
  • Cognitive impairment. If your parent has significant memory problems, there may not be much you can do. Reassurance and re-direction can help to ease confusion and agitation. Repeated requests to go home may indicate pain, thirst, hunger, or boredom. Try to get to the source of discomfort and address that. If the move was relatively recent, give it some time. 

5. Ask someone else to talk with your parent

If you aren’t making any headway, ask someone else to talk with your parent about why they want to leave.

This could be a family member, church member, a social worker, or a friend. Sometimes another person may have better success at finding out what the problem is.

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6. Offer alternatives

If you have tried all these tips and your parent still wants to leave, consider these alternatives:

  • If going home is not an option, think about a move to a different assisted living or nursing home. Since you want to avoid the same problems that created the desire to leave in the first place, do your homework. Check with the local Ombudsman program to find out about complaints. Talk with the administrator about staffing issues and the ratio of staff to residents.
  • Think creatively about alternatives to assisted living augmented with outside help. This might be board and care homes, independent senior living, or a continuing retirement community. 
  • It is not unheard of for families to move a parent into a condo or other single level living arrangement. Home care caregivers can be hired either part-time or full time to help with bathing, dressing, cooking, cleaning, and transportation. You may want to consider a two-bedroom in case live-in care is required.  
  • The last case scenario for many families is to move a parent into their own home. This option can work with careful planning. Some considerations are privacy, home accessibility, caregiver duties, and responsibilities, and the financial costs of care.

Your Parent Wants to Leave Assisted Living or a Nursing Home

At the end of the day, it is important for you to have a better grasp on how to handle your parent wanting to leave assisted living or a nursing home.

An empathetic and caring attitude will help preserve your relationship regardless of the decision you both make. Knowing that you are both on the same page can help make this process go smoother.

If you're looking for more on long-term care, read our guides on questions to ask a nursing home and respite care.

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