Stubborn Aging Parents Who Want To Age In Place: What You Need To Consider

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By Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Elder law attorney, consultant

When asked, about 90% of elders will say that they don’t want to go to any kind of “home” as they get older. They want to stay in their own homes. Aging in place can be more of a fantasy than a realistic look at what is really needed.

“I’m not going anywhere”, said my mother in law, Alice, age 91 at the time. Widowed a few years earlier she had managed to stay in their large house by herself. She ignored the gentle urgings from family that it was not the safest choice. She stubbornly clung to the notion that she was fine and was going to be independent forever.

The frustration of having arthritis in her hands and not being able to grip things finally got to her. She decided to move into a smaller rental house in the same community as the big house was, where she could keep her usual routine with the friends she had left there. Alice had to get rid of many things and donated truckloads to charity.

Then one day, a year and a half later, out of the blue, she decided it was time to move closer to family. At that point, she was at least two hours away from relatives. We found a seniors’ community near her daughter. We had to get rid of most of her remaining possessions. The new apartment had very limited space.

The move to the new community proved to be helpful to everyone. There was someone at the front desk to call if help was needed. However, as time passed Alice’s physical and mental abilities declined slowly, she was not able to manage by herself any longer. A caregiver was needed to supplement what family could do. It started with several hours a day, four days a week, but as her vision declined, the hours needed to be increased. Her decline continued with an increased need for more caregiving and more expenses.

Currently, Alice’s “aging in place” in her apartment is accomplished with full-time caregivers. She does not have to be in a nursing home, something she dreads. Our goal is to help keep her at home. She is fortunate that she can afford the current setup and more caregiving as needed.

The takeaways from Alice’s story about aging in place are these:

  1. The concept of aging in place may be a fantasy based on the belief that nothing will change to make moving out of the elder’s home a necessity.
  2. A gradual transition from complete independence in one’s home can be less traumatic and easier than an abrupt change brought on by a hospitalization and unplanned loss of independence.
  3. Stubborn aging parents can make any transition very hard on family members. It may take major physical declines to convince an elder that living alone is no longer safe. Count on them resisting as long as they can.
  4. As long as your aging parent is legally competent to make decisions, they have a right to make unsafe decisions, even though you may vehemently disagree. You can’t force them to move if they retain the capacity for decision-making.

Alice was indeed stubborn but she gave into the need for help that she historically refused. Ultimately, she wanted the caregivers she had fought against hiring for so long. Now, she depends on them for everything.

For anyone with a stubborn aging loved one, don’t give up hope that they can eventually accept help. Physical impairments can become very persuasive. If you’re having problems with your aging parent, we offer some great resources. Our book The Family Guide to Aging Parents answers your legal, financial, and health questions about caring for an aging loved one. Get your copy here:

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