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When An Elderly Loved One In A Nursing Home Says They No Longer Want To Be There

Updated: Jun 11

Transitioning an elderly parent or relative into a long-term care residence can create a complex web of anxiety, guilt, worry, and uncertainty. Some seniors want to live somewhere with consistent care provided by professionals and be surrounded by a community of folks in the same season of life, while many others dread the ambiguity of a new life away from the home and people they’ve grown so accustomed to over the years. In many cases, moving into a nursing home or retirement community is the best option for receiving quality, round-the-clock care, but that doesn’t always make it easy or simple to adapt to the new setting.


What is it like when an aging loved one, having moved into a long-term care center, expresses a desire to return home? Whether prompted by nostalgia, discomfort, or a longing for familiarity, this plea can stir up a range of emotions for both the senior and their caregivers. In such cases, it's essential for caregivers to approach the situation with empathy, understanding, and, most importantly, careful consideration. Here is our take, coming from a geriatric care management team:


Let’s start with the clichés: Listen and Understand.


Hearing that your loved one has ended up (or is still) unhappy with their living situation can trigger some defensive reflexes. This is especially true if you, as an adult child or informal caretaker have played a key role in making the decision to move them to a home, and even more so if you’ve done the work (it can be a lot of work) to make the move happen. It may be unpleasant to hear that they want to undo all that’s been done, and, for many people, the first instinct is to cut them off and list all the pros of this new setting, ask to give it more time, or offer solutions. Instead, take the time to listen to your loved one's reasons for wanting to return home. They may have specific concerns, fears, or unmet needs that are driving their desire to leave the long-term care setting. By actively listening and understanding their perspective, you can gain valuable insights into their emotional state and address their concerns more effectively.


In the same vein, Validate Their Feelings.  


Acknowledge their emotions and adjust your perspective to empathize with their longing to be autonomous in a familiar environment.


Remember: while it may feel like a guilt trip or a critique of you, it most likely comes from a place of needing to vent and connect with another person. You may be one of few people to lend a listening ear – sometimes, the only person.


While listening, Explore the Root Cause.


Dig deeper to uncover the underlying reasons behind their desire to return home. Is it due to loneliness, discomfort, or dissatisfaction with their current living situation? Are there practical challenges or limitations in the setting that are impacting their quality of life? Understanding the root cause can help you tailor your response and explore potential solutions.


Here's another factor in listening: you must Listen for Long Enough.


What may start as a general complaint – say, I just hate it here – can be unhelpful in finding real solutions. Listen actively and allow them to talk for as long as it takes to figure out what’s bothering them most. It may not be what you expect.


You may find that, in some cases, the senior is not looking for solutions nor expecting to actually move back home. It can be immensely helpful to simply have the space to vent and be heard and understood. 


When you have a better understanding of their perspective and wishes, Discuss Realistic Options. This can be difficult and takes a lot of courage. Engage in open and honest discussions about the feasibility of returning home and explore the practicalities involved. Consider factors such as the senior's health condition, caregiving needs, financial resources, and available support systems. Be realistic about the challenges and limitations of living independently at home and discuss alternative options that may better meet their needs.


Focus on enhancing the senior's quality of life and well-being, whether they remain in the long-term care setting or transition back home. Discuss ways to improve their comfort, social engagement, and sense of purpose within their current living environment. Explore opportunities for personalized care, meaningful activities, and supportive services that promote their overall happiness and fulfillment.


To do this right, we highly recommend consulting with professionals, especially if your loved one has specific complaints or concerns about their new setting. Seek guidance from healthcare professionals, social workers, or geriatric care managers (like our team at Senior Steps!) who can provide expert advice and support. They can assess the senior's health status, evaluate the suitability of returning home, and help develop a comprehensive care plan that addresses their needs and preferences. Utilize their expertise to explore all available options and make informed decisions.


Finally, Offer Reassurance and Support.


Reassure your loved one that you are there to support them and advocate for their best interests, regardless of the decision made. Offer emotional support, reassurance, and encouragement throughout the decision-making process. Assure them that their well-being is your top priority and that you will work together to find the most suitable living arrangement (and mean it!).


Through it all, it’s crucial to respect your loved one's autonomy and empower them to participate in decision-making to the fullest extent possible. Recognize that, ultimately, the choice of where to live rests with them, and it's important to honor their preferences and wishes. Even if returning home may not be feasible, involve them in exploring alternative options and finding solutions that align with their values and priorities.


If you need further assistance or support in navigating the complexities of caregiving for elderly loved ones, don't hesitate to reach out to our team at . We offer quick phone consults, long-term care planning over Zoom, mediation services, and in-person guidance, resources, and support every step of the way.

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