How can we convince Mom she should stay in assisted living?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My 83 year old mother is in senior living in a progressive facility. She had to move there after my brother started a fire in the house where she lived. The problem were are having is that she is very adament about not living there any more and that she wants to leave immediately. She cannot understand why none of her children want her in their home. Mom would be alone over 10 hours a day and would have no companionship. She is not an easy person to live with and we thought that she would enjoy being around others her age. We are dealing with a lot of guilt and are not sure what to do. We have asked her to stay for a month to see if she can get used to the facility but she does not want to stay. Is there a way to help convince her to stay?

Expert Answer

Kay Paggi, GCM, LPC, CGC, MA, is in private practice as a geriatric care manager and is on the advisory board for the Emeritus Program at Richland College. She has worked with seniors for nearly 20 years as a licensed professional counselor, certified gerontological counselor, and certified geriatric care manager.

You are doing exactly the right thing by letting your mother continue to live in assisted living. She needs to remain there, given the situation you have described. You probably cannot convince her to stay in her community with words, you must do it by your actions. Withdraw the option of leaving the community.

She cannot return to her former house. She would be miserable and isolated in the home of any of her children, no matter how much they love her. In fact, the more you love her, the more motivated you are to do the right thing for her. If she insisted on playing on the highway, would you permit it? No? Even if that was what she believed would make her happy? Why not?

Often the best solution is not what a person wants, or thinks they want. (This is true of younger people, too.) This cohort of older people remembers the time when their grandparents were in later life. Older people historically have gone to live with their children, or the children have remained at home as their parents aged. This works well as long as there are plenty of older children and adults in the house to provide care and companionship for the elders. Nowadays, children are at school or activities until bedtime, both parents work, the extended family no longer lives in the local neighborhood, and there is no one in the house to pay attention to the elders. It's not right or wrong, it is just our present reality.

Your mother must live in the now. In her community, she has contact with her peers and their families when they visit. She has meals, activities, and assistance with tasks of daily living. Your job as her loving family is to provide the quality care. This means visits on evenings and weekends, and maybe attending community events with her. She would probably like it if an adult child became the book lady or the garden lady or the one who calls bingo, or whatever. This gives her bragging rights, "My daughter is the one who......" Schedule a cookie party or jewelry party or make up party in her room or the private area of the community so she can be the hostess. This gives her some ownership in the community.

Your goal is to lay to rest her fears that she will be abandoned into the facility, and no longer be a participant in her family. You must prove to her that is not the case with your actions on a continual basis, as long as she lives there. The benefit of these actions is that you will not have anything to be guilty about. You will be assisting your mother to have the highest quality of life, rather than the sub-optimal life she would have in your home.