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Will Your Aging Parent Give Up The Too-Large Family Home?

The battle goes on with aging parents who are living alone or without family nearby and their adult children. From the kids’ point of view, their parent is just not safe in that big house anymore, with the declines that often come with aging. Perhaps the elder has lost a spouse or partner and there is no one left to watch out for them. The family tells them they should move. They explore senior living situations. They urge and argue with the aging parent. They’re worried, and justifiably so. Frail elders are not safe living alone, generally.

The Aging Parent’s View

If you happen to have an elder in your life who is in this situation, alone in a big house, you’ve probably heard their responses to the family’s urgings to give it up, move out and sell or rent the house. They flatly refuse. They may say, sometimes vehemently, to leave them alone, don’t tell them what to do, and that it’s their house, not the kids’. This is followed by “I’m fine and I’m not leaving here.” Or if they’ve had falls, which is a common reason families get concerned, you’ll hear “I’ll just be more careful.”

When Are We “Old’?

I recall a similar conversation that took place between a very independent mother, (IM), and her two sons. She lived in a two-story home and did have several falls. Fortunately, she had not broken any bones. The sons desperately wanted her to be safe and not fall and break a hip, they said. At where we advise families, we set up a family phone conference. The sons patiently explained all their worries about their mom. She listened. They pointed out the hazards in the house where IM lived, where they had grown up. They said it was dangerous and that they would help her find a place in a local senior’s residence with apartments. IM’s response: “Okay, we can talk about that when I get old”. IM was 90!

This is not far-fetched. The prospect of moving out of familiar territory, the feeling of safety, real or not, and the fears of such a major life change as giving up a house full of memories is never easy for an older person. The decision is not about logic or what is reasonable. It’s about loss of control, and the symbol of losing the independence one is used to having. Many elders are frightened at the prospect.

Finding A Right Time

In my own family’s experience, my 86 year old mother-in-law, Alice (R.I.P.) had a well designed large one-story house in a seniors’ gated community. After she lost her husband, she carried on bravely: card games every week, exercise in the community pool, and weekly social activity with a couple who didn’t reject her because of widowhood. (Some former friends did.) She managed rather well. But over time, she had less ability to do as much in her house as she wanted to do. Arthritis in her hands was limiting. Her vision and hearing decreased. Despite our pleas to move closer to one of her kids, she flatly refused. She said it wasn’t the right time. Maybe she, too, was waiting until she was “old”, like IM.

Sudden Decision

No one could push Alice. She was stubborn and insisted on being independent. At 93 she was still driving and participating in many community functions. But to our shock, she called her son one day and said “Okay, I’m ready”. Ready for what? She announced that she was ready to move to a seniors’ community. We collectively gasped! What? After all our years of begging and efforts to get her to move, she came to the decision on her own? The tipping point? She said her hands hurt and she could no longer change a light bulb. We got to work, found a place a few blocks from a family member, packed up what would fit in a one-bedroom apartment and got her moved. It was an ordeal for all.

The Work Involved

In any family’s efforts to persuade an aging parent or loved one to give up the house and accept a smaller environment, keep in mind that the transition is not easy. One can get help with many of the chores involved but the emotional impact on the elder is very significant. It goes beyond tasks and getting ready. They are not only giving up a familiar physical space, they are giving up all the memories and attachments they had to it. If friends still live nearby, they are giving up that closeness too.

Then there is the getting rid of belongings, some cherished, cleaning up and doing neglected repairs, perhaps changing medical providers, and many other details. Selling or renting the home has various financial and tax considerations as well. Much of that work falls on family.

The Results

For many elders, there is a period of adjustment after giving up the too-large house that varies with the individual. Some aging parents enjoy the change from a somewhat isolated existence to being in a community environment with built-in social activities and entertainment. These amenities are typical in most assisted living/independent living senior environments. Some people do well and learn to like the change. Others do not. The reclusive person who has never had many friends does not usually thrive in these places. The location can change but their personality doesn’t. The majority who do well are able to adjust over time and find relief in no longer having to manage a household, with the inevitable maintenance and repairs.

The Takeaways

If you have a very stubborn aging parent who refuses to move from a house that is too big for them, trying to force them to move will only lead to more and more stress. Consider other options, such as a live-in companion.
Remain respectful of the fears associated with the prospect of having to give up all that is familiar in one’s own home. Verbalize that. Encourage discussion. Ask how your aging parent feels about this.
Do your research. Find out what options exist for senior living in a place close to family. No matter where they live, the need to keep watch will remain for responsible family. Show them some possible examples of how moving solves the safety and isolation problem.
In my own family, Alice lived in her seniors’ community in her one-bedroom apartment for the remaining three years of her life, to age 96. She participated in many activities there almost to the end. It took a long time for her to decide to move, but it turned out well.

If you are having these frustrating discussions with your aging loved ones, get professional advice so you can relieve your stress. Find answers at, with our nurse-lawyer, psychologist team today. Call us at 866-962-4464 or reach us at our website. We’re ready to help you.

Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, R.N. , Attorney,

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