Why Your Dementia Patient Refuses to Go to a Nursing Home and What You Can Do About It

September 7, 2023

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Why Your Dementia Patient Refuses to Go to a Nursing Home and What You Can Do About It


Taking care of a loved one with dementia is an emotionally and physically draining task. As dementia progresses, the patient's needs increase and become more specialized, often leading to discussions about relocating them to a nursing home. However, it's common for a dementia patient to refuse this option vehemently. Understandably, this creates a dilemma for families who are concerned about the patient's well-being. In this article, we explore why dementia patients might refuse to go to a nursing home and provide suggestions for navigating this sensitive issue.

Why Refusal Happens

The idea of transitioning to a nursing home can be an emotional minefield for anyone, but it's particularly complex for individuals with dementia. Here are some common reasons for their refusal:

Loss of Independence: One of the most significant fears is the perceived loss of autonomy. The idea of leaving their home, where they have control over their daily lives, can be frightening.

Emotional Attachment: Many dementia patients have lived in their homes for decades. The thought of leaving their familiar surroundings can trigger emotional distress, adding to their cognitive burden.

Confusion and Lack of Understanding: Dementia impairs cognitive abilities, making it difficult for patients to fully grasp the reason behind the move. Their limited understanding can manifest as fear or refusal.

Stigma Associated with Nursing Homes: Cultural or societal beliefs may contribute to a negative perception of nursing homes, leading the individual to resist the move vehemently.

Denial: Some patients are in a state of denial about how advanced their dementia has become. They may not recognize the level of care they require, complicating rational decision-making.

Fear of Isolation: The idea of being 'put away' and forgotten can instill a significant amount of fear, further complicating the acceptance of this change.

Addressing Concerns and Fear

Alleviating the fears and concerns associated with moving to a nursing home is not an easy task. However, there are ways to help make this transition smoother:

Open and Honest Communication: Avoid talking around the issue. Be clear, but sensitive, in outlining why a nursing home might be the best option for their care.

Involve Them in the Process: If possible, involve them in selecting a facility. Let them feel that they have some level of control or choice in the matter.

Use Empathy, Not Logic: Arguing logically may not always work due to the cognitive impairments of dementia. Approach the topic with empathy, love, and understanding.

Seek Professional Guidance: Consulting healthcare providers experienced in dementia care can offer valuable insights into dealing with this emotional process.

Family Support: A united front from family members can often make a world of difference in swaying the opinion of a resistant dementia patient.

Trial Periods: Some nursing homes offer short-term stays. A "trial period" could provide a less intimidating way for the individual to experience the benefits of specialized care.

Be Patient and Consistent: You may need to have the same conversation multiple times due to the nature of dementia. Be patient and reiterate the points as often as needed.

The Family's Role

When dealing with a dementia patient who refuses to go to a nursing home, the family's role is paramount. The dynamics vary from one family to another, but some universal guidelines can help:

United Front: It's essential that all family members are on the same page regarding the need for nursing home care. A divided family can send mixed messages, further confusing the individual with dementia.

Identify a Spokesperson: Often, dementia patients respond better to one family member. Identify who that person is and allow them to take the lead in discussions.

Be Informed: Know the stages of dementia, what care is required at each stage, and what options are available. An informed family can make more convincing arguments.

Show Emotional Support: The emotional toll of moving to a nursing home can be as hard on the family as it is on the patient. Ensure that you provide emotional support and assurance to help your loved one cope with the transition.

Consult Experts: Whether it's geriatric care managers, doctors, or counselors, don't hesitate to seek professional advice. They can provide strategies for communication and transition that you might not have considered.

Prepare for Resistance: Understand that you're likely to face some level of resistance, and be prepared for it. Practicing patience and compassion will be key.

Alternative Options

If a dementia patient strongly refuses to go to a nursing home, it might be worth considering alternative options:

In-Home Care: Professional caregivers can provide specialized dementia care in the comfort of the patient's own home.

Adult Day Care: These facilities offer care and stimulation during daytime hours, allowing the patient to return home in the evenings.

Assisted Living: While not as comprehensive as a nursing home, many assisted living facilities offer specialized dementia care units.

Respite Care: For families that are primary caregivers, short-term respite care can provide a much-needed break and can serve as a trial run for permanent care options.

Technology: Home monitoring systems and emergency alert services can offer a level of safety for those who prefer to stay at home.

Family Care: In some instances, a rotating schedule among family members can provide adequate care, though this is often a significant commitment and may not offer the specialized care that dementia requires.

Financial Planning: If cost is a major concern, consult with a financial advisor familiar with eldercare issues to explore alternative funding options.

Taking Legal Steps

When a loved one with dementia refuses to move into a nursing home, there may be cases where taking legal steps becomes necessary. These could be especially important when the individual poses a safety risk to themselves or others. Here are some key considerations:

Power of Attorney: Having a medical power of attorney in place is crucial for making healthcare decisions on behalf of a person with dementia, especially when they can no longer make such decisions themselves.

Guardianship: In extreme cases where the individual is incapable of making rational choices, applying for guardianship may be necessary. This is a legal process that grants one person the authority to make medical, financial, and personal decisions for another.

Living Will: Check if your loved one has a living will or advanced care directives that provide instructions on what sort of care they wish to receive if they can no longer express their preferences.

Legal Advice: Consult an elder law attorney who specializes in dementia care issues. They can guide you through complex legal terrain, including questions of consent, rights, and obligations.

Ethical Considerations: While you may have legal standing to make decisions for your loved one, consider the emotional and ethical implications. Open dialogue and family mediation may still be the best first steps before pursuing legal avenues.


Dealing with a loved one who has dementia and refuses to go to a nursing home is a complex, emotionally charged situation. While the resistance to move can stem from various fears and concerns, the family plays a vital role in supporting the patient and exploring alternatives. If absolutely necessary, legal steps can be taken to ensure the safety and well-being of your loved one. Regardless of the route chosen, the key lies in balancing the need for specialized care with the emotional well-being and personal wishes of the individual with dementia. Families may need to confront difficult emotions and make challenging decisions, but the goal remains the same: to ensure a safe, loving environment for their loved one struggling with dementia.

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