Dementia Support

My parent with dementia is unsafe at home and won't talk about moving

August 23, 2022

You’ve tried to convince your parent with dementia to move to a retirement community, but they refuse to consider it. Now whenever you try to bring up the subject, you’re met with stony silence.

Of course, you wouldn’t be pushing so hard if you weren’t worried about their safety. Maybe they’ve been losing weight because they’re not eating properly. They’re not taking their medications. They’ve had a bad fall. They’ve been hospitalized recently. They’re making poor decisions. The list of possibilities goes on.

You’re at your wits end. You don’t want to be overbearing. But at the same time, you know that if they simply stay put, the chances of them getting into a crisis – particularly as their dementia progresses – are high.

What do you do?

Well, it may depend in part on how advanced their dementia is.

Early stages

If they’re in the relatively early stages of the disease, they may still be capable of making decisions about where they should be living. In other words, they understand the risks of continuing to live at home and choose to do so anyway. 

The best you can do is to hope to persuade them to reconsider. You can’t override them. According to Ontario law, if they understand the consequences, it’s their decision to make, even if you don’t agree with them.

Simply pushing harder, hammering away until they finally see the light and agree to move is likely to be ineffective. 

Why they might be refusing

One reason your parent might be refusing to consider a move is because they know it’s going to be a big change for them. They may anticipate that their dementia will make it hard for them to adjust to a new environment with new people and new routines. 

Think about it for a moment. A move is a major life event for any of us. An upheaval. Now consider what it would feel like to uproot yourself when you’re having increasing trouble making sense of the world around you. Wouldn’t you be at least a little fearful?

This doesn’t mean that moving to a retirement community is necessarily a bad idea. In fact, your parent may be much better supported there than in their current home. 

That said, any fear they might be experiencing about the prospect of a move – whether they disclose it you or not – is perfectly understandable under the circumstances. 

A woman tripping over a rug
A move is a major life event for any of us

Changing your approach

With this in mind, you might try having another talk with them. But this time, instead of trying to sell them on the idea of a retirement community, ask them what concerns them most about living with dementia now and in the future. They may open up to you or not. If they do, acknowledge what they’re feeling. Don’t minimize it or try to explain it away. If you revisit the topic of a possible move later on, be sure to address their concerns as best as you can.

You may uncover that your parent has some misconceptions about retirement communities. For instance, they may think that retirement communities and nursing homes are more or less the same, even though they’re very different. Look at the websites of a few retirement communities to get a feel for what they offer, not just in terms of care options, but also social life. Share some of the information with your parent to show them how retirement living might not be as bad as they assume.

If they’re still not willing to talk with you, you may try enlisting the help of their family physician. Before your parent’s next appointment, call the family physician to explain your concerns and your discussions about a move to a retirement community to date. Arrange to accompany your parent to the appointment. Your parent may be more inclined to accept the doctor’s opinion than yours.

Even if you try these approaches, you may still find yourself at an impasse. If that’s the case, you may want to call in a senior living advisor who’s skilled at navigating these particular sort of conversations. (Someone like us, for instance.)

Later stages

If your parent has been living with dementia for a long time, they may have lost the ability to make informed decisions about where they should be living. In other words, they no longer understand the risks of continuing to live at home. 

In this case, someone may have to intervene on their behalf. If they have a Power of Attorney for Personal Care in place, that someone will be the person(s) they’ve designated to act on their behalf in the event they’re no longer capable of making their own personal care decisions. If there is no Power of Attorney, Ontario law indicates who should act as their substitute decision maker.

Moving a parent to a retirement community without their consent is a last resort and may only be done if strict conditions are met. To better understand this issue, check out our article on the topic

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