How can I help convince my mother that it's time to move into a retirement community?

6 answers | Last updated: May 08, 2012
Jtowne asked...

My father is ready to move into a retirement community, but my mother refuses. My father can't take care of her anymore,  but she's been saying for years that she is "going to get better and start doing more for herself." What can I do?

Expert Answers

Jonathan Rosenfeld is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco.

This sounds like a very difficult situation for you and your family. From your mother's perspective, she doesn't want to move nor does she see the necessity. She may not be taking you seriously when you challenge her. After all, she's been saying for years that she is "going to get better and start doing more for herself." In other words. she has had a strategy of putting off change for years, it's worked and she sees no reason to take a different approach.

Given your father's deteriorating health, it sounds like it's only a matter of time before something's going to give. You might try and force the issue by getting a place and having your father move initially without her -- that is, if her health permits. Before resorting to this, however, I would try having a family meeting to discuss the issue. It might make sense for you to consult with a family therapist or your mother's psychiatrist before you have this conversation.

When you talk to your mother, try to keep the tone of the discussion calm and friendly. Explain that she is going to have to make this change sooner or later, and it's a good idea to do so now, rather than waiting until the last minute.

It sounds like your mother has used her illness to get her way over the years, so it's important that everyone -- including your father -- speak honestly and firmly. Give your mother a chance to explain her objections to the move. She may have some very legitimate concerns that can be addressed. Both your parents may worry that they will see less of you once their needs are being met by others, so it's important that you reassure them both that you still plan to see them as often as possible. See if your mother is open to visiting a few retirement communities with you, without committing to anything. She may find the reality much less intimidating than she imagines.

If nothing else works, you may have to wait until things degenerate and there is no longer any choice in the matter. It would be unfortunate if it takes a crisis to force the issue, but that might be the case.

Community Answers

Seekersusie answered...

I think Jonathon Rosenfeld has a rather narrow perspective. Well meaning, your advice is treating the symptoms and working to satisfy an intellectual hypothsis and the daughter. I am concerned with the labeling and the attempt to take basic rights from the husband and the wife. This might help:

Over the years I've known many patients and their not so "patient" families. People who are elderly got that way usually through knowing how to take care of theirselves and a mate. For better and worse, right?! No one grows into change at the same pace no matter your age. We are all unique and need the inherent dignity of living our lives as best we can. Not to say outside help is not sometimes necessary,with moderation as the key except for emergencies of course. Question: How does a declaration of independence necessarily be manipulation (i.e. "it sounds like your Mother has used her illness to get her way")..who said anything about illness? Not the daughter.

The therapists response is fear based on many levels: one of the basic behaviors of most people who have parents nearing the end of their lives here, is to try and protect them from the inevitable. Everything changes, life "dies" or more broadly said, developes into something beyond the normally known. Esoterically spoken.

That said, I would suggest that your mother and father both need some control of their lives; why not have a family meeting where you offer some well thought out proposals:

hire a caregiver to come in to be trained by your Mother and Father to do things the way they are used to do them, thereby satisfy your concern, and give them both say over their lives. Ask their doctors how they are physically and otherwise, can they make it on their own, with perhaps some help?

Retirement communities, even the best of them, take away much of what constitutes healthy living by attempting to do everything for people. Besides being breeding grounds for disease often, depending on the type of nursing facility. Assisted living facilities are still specialised and isolation often occurs; no variety or spice of life going on, and independence is gone.

I have some neighbors and friends (he is 100 years old she is 95) who just came home from three months away; first in the hospital, (1st one and then the other since life doesn't make sense to either of them alone)then a so called Rehab/nursing home.

While there they had to struggle to not only survive the contamination in that environment but the infections they arrived with. The staffing is down and people there treat the symptoms, (as does Jonathon Rosenfeld), not the source of the inbalance.

The good news is my friends made it home because they battled the well meaning family and the not so well meaning institution (who made a lot of money off of them).

Since they've been home they have improved drastically; they have a home health aide, and the comfort of home returned. They can't do eveything they are used to do, but just being home is huge. Huge.

They have their life back...a new normal to cope with and continuity of familiar places they love. Everything is better and the daughter even is. She did what she could to impose her ideas, backed up by well meaning professionals, but when all is said and done, back up help is there when they need it...home is where the heart is as long as we are on earth.

Howard3 answered...

Good luck. My mother-in-law just stalled ("I just can't make up my mind about moving and there is NO way someone is going to live in my home to take care of me." She held off "making up her mind" until she died. Even after multiple trips in an ambulance to the ER, (my wife found her one day pulling herself across their bedroom floor with a trail of blood behind her after a fall in the bathroom. Even after that, in the ER, she told the admitting nurse that she was in the ER because the EMT's had broken her rib. At one point, my father-in-law just bought a place in a retirement community, but she still refused to budge.

Right now, you need to be concerned about your dad, being a caregiver is tremendously hard work.

A fellow caregiver answered...

I can appreciate this discussion, my father who will be 95 this May, is still living independently, driving and is in failing health, I don't want to call it dementia, but he has trouble remembering simple things. I've tried to get him to move in with me (I'm a widow and have a three bedroom house, although it is in a different state) and could provide him with transportation to his current physicians. His answer to this is, I will not give my house away, I want xxx number of dollars, but the housing market has deteriorated and he will not be able to sell it for what he wants. I feel that this is a stalling tactic. Help! I am so tired of trying to run down 90 plus miles to check on him and still work full-time. Any suggestions?

Aabeth answered...

My Mother has lived with me for 2 1/2 years, I have been caring for her full time for over 3 years. Recently, I had to put her in a nursing home. She has been overly aggressive and acting out. I was afraid I would hurt her so I took her to the ER. I tried to get help over and over and was told that there were no funds to help me. At the ER the Doc asked me what I wanted to get from my visit. I was unable to tell him that I could not take care of her anymore. He admitted her and when our family doctor passed by she was the one who said the words "LONG TERM CARE" Well she is now in a nursing home and she cried all day the first day. I couldn't sleep always second guessing myself, when I returned to the facility the next day, she was so happy walking all over the place. I suffer and she is just fine. My heart is still broken, and the tears continue to flow. It's like I'm grieving all over again. This disease is a nightmare that just don't stop. I have to believe that God will carry us throgh the tuff times and I am not in controll. Just needed to get that out. Thanks :)

Sandyand answered...

Personally I find some of these situations of dealing with Alzheimer's not that different from seeking solutions to difficulties when raising my own child/children. When one thing doesn't/didn't work I devised another approach until I found one that seemed to work better. Right now my 93-year old father, diagnosed with Alzheimer's less than a year ago with my 84-year-old mother as primary care giver, has all the typical problems associated with Alzheimer's. We (my mother & brothers & sisters) knew for years that Dad had dementia and Dad himself would occasionally say that he couldn't remember things the way he used to. Some years ago Mom would try to explain everything to Dad but he would only get mad and make her cry because he simply wasn't able to understand (which she didn't want to believe or realize). Getting Dad to bathe at least once a week was also an issue. Fortunately Mom has finally realized that you DON'T ASK Dad if he wants to take a bath or if he wants to eat, etc. -- because the answer is ALWAYS NO. You simply tell him it's time to do so, and so on and so forth ... as all of us come to realize when you deal with advanced dementia and/or Alzheimer's.

Anyway, what seems to work best when Dad refuses to behave in the best interest of himself is NOT to tell him that he needs to do so for his own sake (he'll always deny he needs special help, needs to sleep downstairs instead of upstairs, etc. -- his mind won't let him believe otherwise). What works best is to ALWAYS have Mom remember to tell Dad that she wants him to do so, because SHE NEEDS him to take care of her, to keep an eye on her, to be there in case she needs him, etc. Now getting Mom to remember to do so has been a challenge but with some repeated reminders through the past several months, she has come to realize that that approach DOES WORK amazingly well and she now has begun to do so more and more without prompting. Truth be told, Mom does need and want Dad to be there for her just as she is there for him so she's really not lying to him she's simply come to realize that he doesn't or won't accept his own needs so she has to stick with emphasizing hers ONLY.

My main point is ... one size does NOT fit all. If one approach doesn't work, try another. I must admit I do like the idea of having someone come into your parents home to lend a hand rather than quickly putting them in assisted living or the like. You may want to try that first in order to take the burden off your Dad ... and ... at the same time as you do that I suggest you send a strong message to your mother that that EXTRA HELP is coming into the home because your Dad feels 'he needs help' -- obviously putting emphasis (as we have) on the needs of the person who still has that best connection to the reality of everyone's needs.

I would also add ... keep the channels open with your parents & let them know you're always there to lend a hand as best you can to assist them in every way you can (e.g. help them: manage their checking & savings account(s), keep track of bills to be paid, pick up groceries for them, take them to doctor appointments, help them each year with signing up for Medicare Part D, pick up prescriptions for them, order refills, etc.); just encourage them to let you know what their needs/desires are, but don't be afraid to notice what they might need & then offer to lend a hand.