What to Do When an Aging Parent Refuses to Move: 9 Things to Try

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

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Moving a parent can be an emotionally frustrating experience for many families. As a family caregiver, you may have legitimate reasons for wanting to make a move.

However, your parent may also have their reasons for wanting to stay. Though it may be in their best interest, you want to strive for a consensus where you may not both agree but your parent decides to move.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Most people think that moving a parent means moving them to an assisted living community or a nursing home.

But that is not always the case. Families may want their parent to move closer to them, from one state to another, from a home to a condo, or from a nursing home to assisted living or with family.

In fact, there may be several senior housing options you are considering. Regardless of where you might be thinking of moving, it could be a complicated process: one that takes care, compassion, and careful planning.

1. Assess Your Reasons

In most cases, someone wants their parent to move elsewhere because they are not safe where they are living. Their care needs may have increased to the point where a move seems like a reasonable solution. Activities of daily living have turned into a pain because of multiple levels in their home, or maybe it’s just become too much of a burden to maintain.

Assessing your reasons will allow you to make sure there isn’t an alternative to a move. For example, if you are an overwhelmed caregiver, is it possible to arrange for in-home care? Are there other resources like adult daycare or other respite care services?

By carefully examining the situation, you can explore all options and may still arrive at the same decision. You can also use your reasons when having a conversation with your parent.

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2. Empower Your Parent

We can’t emphasize this enough. No one wants to feel like they are giving up control over their life. As your parent’s independence starts to slip away, imagine the emotional impact of feeling dependent on others for their care. Anger, frustration, and depression are common reactions to a loss of control. We have some suggestions on how to approach the conversation collaboratively.

  • Try having a conversation about your concerns in a way that invites problem-solving. 
  • Your tone will set the stage for more productive communication. You can do this by being respectful (after all, your parent is an adult!) and keeping your own emotions in check. 
  • Ask lots of questions to begin the discussions to not appear as if you are telling your parent what to do.

3. Find Out What the Resistance Is

Some folks may miss this when talking to their parents. If you plunge into the idea of a move, the resistance you get may not accurately reflect your parent’s fears and concerns. Make sure to ask carefully and help them sort out what they might be afraid of regarding a move.

By creating an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect, you will get to the bottom of what the resistance is. Common reasons your parent may have for not wanting to move:

  • There is no place like home. This is especially true of a home where your parent has spent many years. Change is hard, but even more so when considering a move to an entirely new place. Familiarity is a strong motivator to stay.
  • “What about my stuff?” A move usually entails considerable downsizing. Having to decide what to bring and what has to be left behind can be very emotional. Suggest a storage unit for the things that cannot come along.
  • If the move is to assisted living, a big fear may often be meeting new people and unfamiliar routines. 
  • “I will be with all of those old people. I don’t need the help that they do.” This statement may be coming from someone who might be in their 80s or 90s! An aging parent refusing assisted living may be more concerned with all the negative and perceived connotations associated with such a community. 

4. Present Your Reasons

The interesting and sometimes baffling thing about an aging parent is how much more functional they believe they are than what they are. On the one hand, this denial can be protective in that it perpetuates the illusion of independence. Meanwhile, you may be at your wit’s end in trying to taking care of them.

A good way to approach this problem is to gently but firmly lay out all of the care that your parent needs. And don’t forget to emphasize safety concerns. Be as specific as you can because they may be surprised to learn how much care they are getting.

Talk about the health and financial consequences of refusing to move. Let them know that you will need to bring in additional care at a cost to them. Sometimes the financial ramifications will have more of an influence on their decision than the safety issues.

5. Assess for Cognitive Impairment

Assess for cognitive impairment if you observe memory or other cognitive problems. Having a diagnosis is essential because if your parent has dementia, you may need to take some legal steps to ensure protection and make decisions.

If you already have power of attorney, that is great. But having power of attorney does not allow you to make decisions on your parent’s behalf. You would need a guardianship for that, and even with guardianship, you can’t force someone into a move.

With guardianship, you can at least prevent your parent from leaving after you have made a move. Families do try to “trick” or otherwise figure out ways to get someone with dementia to move. Consider your options carefully so you can make a decision you can live with.

Communicating with a parent who has dementia may feel like an endless series of the same conversation over and over again. Write things down for your parent to refer to if necessary.

6. Give Your Parent Time to Process the Idea of a Move

If your situation is urgent due to safety or other concerns, this tip may not be work. But, in other cases, taking your time can work in your favor. Give your parent time to process and think over what you have discussed.

Circle back around to the topic later and see what kind of reaction you get. If the resistance is still as strong as before, you might have to call for reinforcements and take some additional steps.

7. Ask for Help

Sometimes another person can have a more significant influence on your parent than you can. Their perspective might be more readily accepted. Think about the following people who might be able to help you to convince your parent to move:

Clergy

If your parent goes to church or has some other spiritual affiliation, reach out to them to see if they would be willing to have a conversation with your parent. Their support and involvement might make a difference.

Physician

Many older adults have a great deal of faith and trust in their physicians. A physician can express health and other safety concerns in a way that your parent may more readily accept. Speak with the physician or their medical assistant ahead of the next visit to express your concerns and ask for their help.

Friends

Asking friends for help with your parent should be done with care because you don’t want to jeopardize their friendship. A friend talking with your parent about a move will give them a sense of support and may provide an opportunity to express their feelings more openly.

Other Family

You may not want to be the only one suggesting a move, and most likely, you have discussed the prospect as a family. If you have siblings who are willing to help, ask them for their support. Assess whether a family meeting might work best or individual conversations with siblings or other family members. 

8. Know When to Give up and Give in

There may come a time when after all of your efforts, your parent won’t budge. Continuing to pressure them to make a decision could damage your relationship. You can’t legally or ethically force someone to do something against their will. You might have to give up and wait, unfortunately, for a crisis to force everyone’s hand.

Do what you can to keep your parent safe, but if you can no longer provide care, make sure you put services in place.

9. Take Care of Yourself

It’s easy to slip into feelings of shame and disappointment when your parents won’t cooperate with what you feel is in their best interest. If you need to, talk with someone about your experience, do so. Recognize and accept that you have done the best you can.

If you are the primary caregiver, look to resources to help you manage and give you support. Your health and well-being are crucial to your ability to continue to care for your parent and for the rest of your family.

Talking With an Aging Parent Who Refuses to Move

Dealing with an aging parent can be frustrating and overwhelming. Your desire to do what is best for them can sometimes lead to rushing into making decisions on their behalf. If you approach the situation with respect and cooperation, you will have the best chance of convincing a parent to move.

You can also do it in a way that conveys safety, love, and deference to their interests and life. Who knows? Perhaps it can even encourage a stronger bond between you and your parent.

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