Mom Refuses to Get out of the Car on a Visit to Senior Housing

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After months of discussing, arguing, cajoling and pleading, your family has finally convinced mom to take a tour of an assisted living community nearby just to take a look around and see what it's all about. The day is here, the family gathers, you pile into the car, and drive to the community. And then, mom refuses to get out of the car. She won't budge. Nothing you say or do changes her mind. She wants to go home. Immediately.

It is a common complaint on the AgingCare.com Community Forum. Desperate caregivers who know it's unsafe for a parent to continue living alone finally win the battle by driving them to tour assisted living, only to lose the war when Mom or Dad won't budge from the car.

As Director of Sales at HarborChase Naples, a senior community that includes assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care, Maria Plaksin sees it a lot. In fact, she conducts what she calls "parking lot presentations" on a regular basis for elders who refuse to get out of the car. "It happens all the time. It's important to break the ice. I'll go to the car and introduce myself."

Plaksin doesn't try to coax the elder inside. She takes her binder out to the car and shows them some photos and brochures about the dining room, spacious apartments, available floorplans and social activities. Mostly she talks to them and listens to the their trepidations. "Sometimes it helps when they have a friendly face to break the ice," she explains. "They still may not get out of the car on this visit, but the majority of the time they come back. They go home, process the information and agree to come back and take a look."

When an elder feels a personal connection with a real person at the community, it helps them feel more comfortable and lessens their fear and uncertainty.

Why are seniors so adamant about not moving? There are several reasons. "They are haunted by the images of nursing homes of the 1960s and 1970s which were sterile, cold-looking institutions. As a society, we've come a long way. But the seniors need to see it for themselves in order to believe it," Plaksin says.

The senior living residences of today really are more like active condo communities with the added benefit of medical care available if and when residents need it.

The other common fear among seniors is a loss of independence. Giving up their home means giving up on life as they know it. It may be the home they have lived in for 50 years. The very thought of leaving it feels like the end of the road.

To try and convince a parent here a few tips:

Bring in alibies early. Sometimes it is easier for a parent to talk to a professional rather than a family member. Is there anyone whom your parent might listen to? A sibling, minister or close friend could help him or her understand the need for this change.

Ask questions. Rather than arguing and telling parents what they have to do, try to get to the bottom of why they are refusing help. Is it about a lack of privacy? Do they fear going to an "institution"? Are worries over the costs deterring them? Could they be concerned about losing their independence? In order to build trust, listen with empathy and validate their feelings rather than dismiss or deny them.

Look at it from your parent's point of view. No one wants to be forced to move out of their home. A move involves countless adjustments at any age. Your loved one may not yet see the need for such a change and probably does not understand that they are at risk.

Bargain with them. This might involve asking them to simply try it out and then see how they feel. Many senior living communities offer a short-term stay option for prospective residents so that seniors can truly test the experience with no obligation to move in. If you do this, though, you have to be prepared to take your parent back home if he or she does not want to stay.

Sometimes there is no amount of discussing, insisting or begging that will change a parent's mind. At some point (unless the parent is declared incompetent and the caregiver gets guardianship) all a caregiver can do is shrug her shoulders and give in, knowing that she tried everything within her power to help. In the end, it is mom or dad's decision.

When this happens, the parent will not entertain the thought of moving. That is, until they get a wake-up call in the form of some traumatic event that causes them to realize that, for their own safety, they must move. Many times it is some sort of fall that prompts this turnaround. It could result in a broken hip or just cause bumps and bruises, but it opens the senior's eyes to the fact that they are not as agile as they once were. At some point most parents will come around, on their own time, and in their own way and the caregiver should feel no guilt.

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5 Comments

Another idea I have, would be to see if there is anyone living in the community you want to tour that your parent already knows, like someone from her faith community or a former neighbor. If that person could meet your parent at the car and lead the first part of the tour it might put your mom at ease.
I couldn't even get my parents to get in the car to drive over to view a wonderful resort type retirement village.... I would bet if my Dad saw the indoor swimming pool he would be sold. Dad said the "brochure looked great, maybe in a couple of years". COUPLE OF YEARS?? Hello, you and Mom are 92 and 96.

A year later Dad said downsizing isn't easy, ok I could understand that. For a solid year Dad has been going through file drawer after file drawer of papers to see what to toss out, and today he hasn't even touch the tip of that iceberg.

I bet i would be moving into that retirement community long before my parents even think about moving :P
Lol.. Freqflyer that gave me a good little chuckle.. in a couple of years! I know this struggle all too well....