After months of discussing, arguing, cajoling and pleading, your family has finally convinced Mom to tour a nearby assisted living community just to take a look around and see what it’s all about. The day arrives, the family gathers, you pile into the car and drive to the community. Once there, Mom refuses to get out of the car. She won’t budge. Nothing you say or do changes her mind, and she wants to go home NOW.

Scenarios like this one are commonly discussed on the Caregiver Forum. Desperate caregivers who know it’s unsafe for a parent to continue living alone finally win the battle by driving them to tour a senior living community, only to lose the war when Mom or Dad won’t budge from the car. How are family caregivers supposed to handle this tactfully and without letting their frustration get the best of them? Sometimes a bit of assistance from staff at the prospective community is in order.

A Friendly Face Can Help Break the Ice

As the director of sales at HarborChase of Naples, a senior community that offers adult day services and assisted living, skilled nursing, respite, and memory care, Maria Plaksin sees caregivers encounter this roadblock pretty often. 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,” Plaksin admits. “It’s important to break the ice, so I’ll go out to the car and start by introducing myself.”

Plaksin doesn’t immediately try to coax the elder inside. Instead, she takes a binder of materials out to the parking lot and shows tentative seniors some photos and brochures about the dining room, spacious apartment floorplans, amenities and social activities. Her goal during these short introductions is to meet seniors part way, give them a warm welcome, provide some basic information and lend an ear to their concerns and trepidations. 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.

“Sometimes when seniors encounter a friendly face it helps to break the ice,” she explains. “They still may not get out of the car on this initial visit, but most of the time they come back. They go home, process the information I’ve given them and agree to return to take a tour.”

Why Seniors Refuse to Entertain the Idea of Senior Living

There are several reasons why older individuals reject the possibility of moving to any kind of senior housing community. “Many are haunted by the images of nursing homes from the 1960s and 1970s, which were sterile, cold-looking institutions,” Plaksin acknowledges. “As a society, we’ve come a long way, but our older generations need to see this progress for themselves in order to believe it.”

Family members present brochures that tout upscale amenities and activities, but most seniors are skeptical and simply assume that the hype is too good to be true. In reality, most contemporary senior living residences really are more like active condominium communities. Many even offer the added benefits of assistance with activities of daily living and medical care if and when residents need it.

The other common fear among seniors is a loss of independence. Many have lived in their current homes for many years, if not most of their lives. Moving means establishing an entirely different routine in an unfamiliar place where they don’t know a soul. Such a drastic life change would be intimidating for anyone, but for seniors, the very thought of starting over feel may like the end of the road rather than an exciting new opportunity.

Tips for Convincing a Senior to Consider Senior Housing

Bring in a Third Party: Sometimes it is easier for seniors to speak frankly with a health care professional or elder care expert rather than a family member. Is there anyone your parent might listen to? A sibling, religious leader or close friend could help them better understand the need for this change and dispel their fears.

Ask Questions: Rather than arguing and telling parents what they must do, try to understand 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? To build trust in this difficult situation, listen with empathy and validate their feelings rather than dismiss or deny them. Push one step further and ask them questions about what they would want and enjoy in a hypothetical senior living environment. This will demonstrate that you truly care about their happiness and finding them a suitable new home. Furthermore, these questions should help you narrow down prospective communities that fit your loved ones needs.

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Consider Their 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 see the need for such a change or understand that they are at risk. However, most seniors are aware that it is time to make a change, but fear and anxiety can result in feelings of denial that are difficult to overcome.

Bargain with Them: This might involve asking a senior to simply take a tour, enjoy a meal, or even try out a senior living community for a few weeks and then see how they feel. Many long-term care communities offer a short-term stay option for prospective residents so that seniors can test the full experience with no obligation to move in. If you do this, though, you must be prepared to uphold your end of the bargain and take your parent back home if they don’t end up liking the community.

Know When to Back Off: Sometimes there is no amount of discussing, insisting or begging that will change a parent’s mind. Unless a senior is declared incompetent and their caregiver’s power of attorney is activated or they obtain guardianship, all a caregiver can do is back off, knowing that they tried their best to help. In the end, this decision is not up to us.

When this happens, seniors usually will not entertain the thought of moving. That is, until they get a wake-up call in the form of an accident or health setback that causes them to realize that they must move to ensure their own safety. A fall is usually what prompts this change of heart. It could result in a broken hip or just a couple of bumps and bruises, but such a mishap opens the senior’s eyes to the fact that they are not as steady on their feet as they once were. Given time, most parents will come around on their own terms and caregivers should feel no guilt. In the meantime, all you can do is try to respectfully persuade and support your aging loved one.