What To Do When Your Elderly Parent Refuses Help

The all too common situation arises: you notice your aging parent falling behind on mail, missing doctors appointments, or lacking their usual hygiene habits. Maybe they’re more forgetful than usual or even skipping meals. You and your siblings suggest it’s time to hire a caregiver to help them around the house, but mom or dad refuse immediately. Sometimes, this suggestion is met with anger and resentment, with your parent insisting that they’re healthy enough and can take care of themselves.

No matter the state of their home or their physical condition, you can’t force help on your elderly parents when they’re competent and able to make decisions on their own. Aging parents have a right to refuse help – that much is true. But what do you do when it’s obvious that your mom or dad needs some assistance? That without it, you and your siblings will constantly fear for your parent’s safety and health?

In cases where it’s abundantly clear that your parent needs help, it’s a good idea to address it now rather than wait until a major health crisis happens. How do you convince your parents to accept the help and care that they need? First, let’s understand why refusal of help is such a common occurrence among seniors, and how to quell their fears.

Why Do Elderly Resist Help?

Getting older brings on drastic changes to our habits and aspects of our lifestyle, many of which are ingrained in us from youth. Understanding the reasons why your aging parent acts stubborn and refuses help is important in approaching the conversation with empathy and respect. Your parents are in a different stage of life than you are, and are experiencing their own thoughts, emotions, motives, and fears.

In a nutshell, aging is scary. Especially in America, our identity is closely tied to our independence and how we decide we want to live. We’re proud of the life we live! But when that sense of pride and control is threatened (through cognitive decline, physical impairment, their children suggesting they hire a caregiver for them, etc.), they may feel a number of emotions: frightened, frustrated, helpless, or misunderstood.

More than anything, feeling a major loss in identity and value is common as people age. Our society tends to view getting old as negative and undesirable. The stigma of aging stems from unwelcome traits: wrinkles, body aches, forgetfulness, grouchiness, and living a less active life than before. As our parents experience those unwanted changes, they themselves may suddenly feel undesirable or undervalued as a person. That feeling is magnified when their children or grandchildren – people younger than them – treat them in ways that go against their identity they’ve built as a capable, self-sufficient adult. For example, children speaking louder or slower to their eldery grandparents could trigger that feeling of being “less-than.”

For that reason, it’s crucial children and grandchildren approach the elderly in their life with validation and reassurance. During this time parents need to know that, although they might be experiencing disabilities or unpredictable changes, they are always important and always matter. With this empathy and understanding in mind, you’ll be able to better relate and communicate with your parent.

Aging Parents Refusing Help: How to Respond

When you’re facing your parent’s refusal for extra help, try the below strategies to help them reconsider:

Evaluate Your Parent’s Situation

Before anything, take a look at your parent’s living conditions, activities, and mental health. What is your parent still able to do? Where is help absolutely necessary? How do they think of themselves? How heavily do they value self-sufficiency and their sense of purpose? Assessing your aging parent’s life is beneficial as it allows you to be direct and prioritize your concerns when initiating the conversation. This also helps in tying your words to align with what they value and what motivates their behavior.

Focus On The Positives

When speaking to your elderly parent, approach the conversation from a place of positivity. Instead of telling your parents the activities they can’t do and pointing out their limitations, focus on what’s important to them and their values. If their identity is closely tied to independence, reinforce the idea that allowing some help here and there will maintain that independence and allow them to continue to do the activities they enjoy. When discussing caregivers, you want to reiterate that they will be a source of companionship, not a source of restriction for your loved ones.

Make It About You

This sounds counter intuitive, but hear us out. If your parents won’t budge on help for themselves, would they do it for their kids? Re-frame the conversation to be about YOU. You’re the one who is worried about them, and your stress from those constant concerns is becoming a burden on you (and your siblings). Many parents don’t like the idea of being a burden or a source of trouble for their children, so making the discussion about your needs may be another way to convince them to agree to some help.

Enlist Experts (If You Have To)

If you’re still facing a deadlock with your aging parents, you may need to include the professionals to help persuade them that help is necessary. Some experts you can turn to include your parent’s physician, supports coordinator, friend, neighbor, social worker, a geriatric care manager, or even a priest, rabbi, or other religious figure. Enlisting help from the community around you can prove to your parents that your concerns are valid. This also reinforces how much your parents matter – with a support system around them, they’re able to see that people care deeply about their well-being and happiness.

Give Options

Providing various care options to your parent is important since it makes them feel like they have the freedom of choice and that their input matters. That being said, you’ll still want to set boundaries when it comes to their care. The areas where your loved one clearly needs help must be addressed in each option you present to them.

Start Small

In presenting your aging parent with options, start small. Maybe an aide provides in-home help around the house two days a week in the beginning. Or maybe you start helping them with things like driving, or picking up groceries. Starting small allows your parents to adjust more easily and may even warm them up to the idea of welcoming more help. You never want to completely overhaul their lifestyle, since bringing about sudden changes can cause your loved one a lot of distress and uncomfort. Gradually ushering in help shows that you respect their boundaries and independence.

If Your Aging Parent Still Won’t Budge

If you’ve tried the above strategies and your loved one is set on refusing assisted living or home care services, accept their choice. As frustrating as it is, your parent is an adult and needs to make the decision for themselves, even if it’s a poor choice. When this situation arises, don’t reject or dispute their opinion. Rather, continue to offer help, love, and support to your aging parent. In their own time and on their own terms, they may realize that help would be beneficial to their life. The best you can do in the meantime is accept the situation, enjoy your time with your parent, and communicate clearly that you’ll always be there for them, whether or not they change their mind.