How to Deal With Elderly Parents Who Refuse Help

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Coming to terms with your parents’ aging is incredibly difficult; it can bring a range of emotions and stressors into your life. Dealing with parents who refuse help can intensify this challenge. It is frustrating to try to convince your parent that it is time to examine long-term care options that meet their needs or to suggest that they need a caregiver when they adamantly deny what you feel is obvious. While this is a time of change in your relationship with your parents, understanding their motivations and focusing on your own actions can help you come to terms with the situation and help your parents recognize where you are coming from in seeking support for them.

Be Honest About Your Parent’s Needs

The urgency of the conversation you have with your parents differs based on the situation they’re in. Consider why you feel your parent needs care. Is it a medical condition or long-term health risk that makes it dangerous for them to live alone? Are there other warning signs of health problems? Have they begun neglecting personal hygiene habits or cleaning around the house? Are you concerned about the amount of time they spend alone? The first step to approaching the process of finding your parent’s care is recognizing their needs. This can impact the type of support you seek for your parents and the tone of the conversation that you

Try to Empathize with Your Aging Parent

Your parent is likely experiencing fear and anxiety just as much as you are (if not more). Recognize that their motivations likely need to have with them.

 center around maintaining their independence and that they may have several reasons for rejecting care. As aging adults, they are forced to confront their own mortality and the idea that they may only have a few years left. The idea of losing mom or dad is very difficult for adult children as well, and understanding that you both have fears can open up the conversation. At the same time that your elderly parent is recognizing their own aging, they likely feel as though they are losing part of their independence. Activities of daily living that were previously not an issue, like driving themselves or taking care of their personal hygiene, have suddenly become difficult to accomplish. Understand that your parent may see accepting help as a further step away from their independence. There are likely many more reasons that your parent is resistant to accepting support, but hearing their concerns can help you assess their needs and help you maintain your relationship with them.

If your parent is open to the conversation, ask them how they are feeling or what has been challenging for them. While it’s easy to assume and infer, asking your parents questions about their needs can help to shift the focus of the discussion away from giving advice about care to how your parent is functioning. Hopefully, this shift can help your parent realize that they may benefit from support and assistance on their own, but if not, it can at least help to open the dialogue further.

Frame Your Concerns Correctly

Listen to how you address your parents in conversations around their care. It’s easy to come off as accusatory or frustrated, but it’s likely to make your parents more defensive and stubborn in their decision. Instead of insisting that they need care, let them know that you are concerned. Put the focus on the worry their actions are currently causing you or your family rather than on the concerning behavior. Consider the statement, “Dad, you’ve missed three doctor’s appointments in a row”. While you are telling your father that you are concerned, your aging parent is left with the focus on their actions that they are likely already insecure about. Reframe the conversation around your feelings, and communicate with your parent that their actions can impact family members as well as themselves, i.e. “I’m concerned about your health, Dad. I know that you missed your appointment last week; do you need a ride next time?” Focusing on small acts of assistance can open the door for larger conversations on consistent care and long-term support.

Let Them Know They Have Options

If your parent seems resistant to the idea of a nursing home or of relocating in general, there are many options for home care services. Your parent likely wants to feel like a respected, autonomous adult, and providing them with information on the range of care options available can help them feel like they are in control of the situation and can make their own choices. Home care professionals are generally flexible in meeting your parent’s needs, helping with things like meal preparation and administering medication. Some skilled health aides are available if your loved one is affected by a long-term medical condition. If you are unfamiliar with the home care services available in your area, research the services nearby and let your parent know the basics of what they offer. While the decision is ultimately not yours to make, providing your parents with all of the information that you have may help them recognize how their needs could be met more effectively.

Accept That They Have Autonomy

While it is challenging, you have to accept that your elderly parents are still independent adults and that you cannot force them to accept help. This is one of the most frustrating parts of conversations with your elderly parents; you can see where they need support but they refuse to accept assistance. However, your parents are still free to make their own decisions, even if you disagree with them. Rather than trying to coerce them into getting help, focus on yourself and your actions that you can control in the situation. Constant nagging isn’t likely to persuade them into seeing things your way, and may even be counterintuitive.

Regardless of if Your Parent Accepts Help, Seek Help for Yourself

It isn’t easy to see your parents struggling as an adult, especially when they seemingly refuse to listen to you in the conversation. Instead of focusing on their actions, focus on yourself. Accept that you can’t control what they do and that you are not the one responsible for their choices. Come to terms with how you feel not only about the situation but about the idea that your parents are aging and this new period in your relationship. If you find yourself struggling with your emotions, acknowledge how you feel. This is a situation you have likely never encountered before and is accompanied by a range of emotions and stressors; it is completely natural to have a reaction to them. Talk with friends and your own support structures about the experience and consider their advice.

If you don’t already, but you feel like you would benefit from talking to a professional, consider seeking a counselor or therapist. Even if you are unsure, remind yourself that you are encouraging your parents to seek the care and support that they need, and you should treat yourself the same way. A therapist can walk you through processing your emotions, coming to terms with your parent’s autonomy, and accepting that you are not able to change or control everything. Talking through the situation can help you find the right words to communicate your concerns to your parents as well.