Overcoming a Parent's Reluctance to Accept Help

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Overcoming a Parent's Reluctance to Accept Help

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Caring for an elderly parent can be fulfilling and, at the same, challenging - especially when it feels like they’re pushing you away and otherwise resisting the need for care. Furthermore, when it feels like you’re giving up your life to care for an elderly parent and your only concern is their wellbeing, their refusal to accept care can lead to feelings of frustration and resentment as their caregiver.

When taking care of an elderly parent becomes more of a struggle than a cooperative partnership, you might need to consider ways to de-escalate the situation and help them understand why they need care. First, you need to understand the valid reasons why they are refusing help. When an older adult resists taking care of their illnesses or being helped by other family members, there is often a deeper explanation behind their surface-level reaction. Many times, they are not refusing help but are uncomfortable with it.

One of the best ways you can prepare to overcome their opposition is by learning as much as possible about your parent(s) and their personality. Being open-minded to the reasons why they behave and respond in a particular way can help you create a thoughtful plan of action for getting them to accept the care they need.

Understanding Why Elderly Parents Refuse Help 

They don’t want to sacrifice their independence and privacy.

While a person might not be capable of doing certain activities on their own, there is a sense of dignity that comes with being independent. For example, some older adults will refuse help dressing or bathing because they don't want to depend on others, even if the alternative is asking someone to do it for them. Likewise, they are unwilling to accept assistance from family members because they may feel accepting care is akin to giving up their independence.

Many older adults are also concerned about privacy and don't want others to see them as incompetent or less capable. Your parent(s) may not want you to see them naked or struggle to complete basic tasks because it makes them feel vulnerable and they don’t want to make you uncomfortable. 

They worry about losing control.

Another common reason older adults resist help is because it can signify losing control of their daily routine. They may refuse support in part because they are afraid of sacrificing certain activities that give them a sense of control, such as dressing themselves or making their meals.

They fear harmful labels.

Some older adults may feel that memory loss is a sign of weakness, and many are concerned with upholding an image they believe evokes strength and resilience. As a result, this attitude can create massive hurdles when it comes time to accept help. Even if someone struggles to remember, they may decline assistance out of fear of being seen as less competent or being called hurtful words like “senile” or "demented.”

How to Get Elderly Parents to Accept Help

Once you identify the reasons why your parent is refusing help, by understanding the motivations behind their actions, you can take the steps needed to help them accept the care and support they need. 

1. Be respectful in conversation.

Before you start any conversation or interaction, avoid a judgmental attitude and be mindful not to use disrespectful language. "You look so weak," for example, is the type of comment that will create tension instantly and make your parent feel uncomfortable and hurt. Whatever your relationship with your parent may be, a positive attitude and interested tone create a healthier space for communication.

2. Determine what services they need.

You first need to make sure that your loved one's needs are adequately assessed and learn what kind of care they need. For example, if your aging loved one requires help walking, a walker or wheelchair may be needed. Likewise, if your parent needs assistance with bathing and dressing, and you don’t feel comfortable providing this type of intimate care, you will need to hire a home health aide or professional caregiver.

3. Recruit the help of other family members and friends.

Depending on your aging parent’s needs, you may consider asking other family members and friends for support. First, ask if they can assist. If so, gauge their comfort level performing certain caregiving tasks. For instance, you don't want someone's assistance being discussed around the house or seen as a method of humiliation. Even if it’s not personal, older adults are still concerned with their privacy and dignity.

4. Don’t force decisions.

Older adults may only be open to receiving help when they absolutely need it, and they must be allowed to make care decisions independently. This means that you can’t force them into accepting assistance. In most cases, that is usually the best route because it allows them to enjoy taking care of themselves when they are still fully capable of doing so.

5. Be honest with them about their limitations.

You should never give false hope or tell your someone that they will get better or feel better when you don’t know. This is an example of toxic positivity and can do more harm than good. Instead, be honest about what is going on with them, what challenges they face daily, and how you can help them stay healthy and happy.

Effective Strategies for Managing Resistance to Care

After discussing care needs and options in a way that respects the boundaries of your aging loved one, you may notice that they become more receptive to care. In the event that you still struggle to provide them care without conflict, it may be because they have experienced recent, disruptive changes to their routine or in their memory. In either case, here are some ongoing strategies you can use to manage any resistance you may encounter while caregiving.

1. Suggest a trial-run of services.

Set-up a trial run of the caregiving services that are needed. Make sure it is clear to your parent that you are not pushing care on them. Make sure they feel comfortable with it, and that it is good for them. This will allow them to make an independent determination about whether or not it is something they want.

2. Use positive words when describing care.

You can use positive, affirming language when describing how you care for your aging loved one. They will likely see those words as a form of reassurance which will make them more likely to accept help. 

3. Address their financial concerns.

Finances can be a major obstacle to affording care services and equipment. If money is an issue for your parent, help them understand why the investment is important and reassure them that there are options when it comes to paying for long-term care; not all care-related expenses have to be paid out-of-pocket. 

4. Keep your composure.

Patience is crucial as it will likely take some time for an older adult to accept help in some aspects of their life. With this in mind, you'll need to be flexible as well, especially if they have previously behaved with resistance.

Although it can be hard dealing with elderly parents who refuse help, you should not force them into accepting assistance. Keep in mind that the reasons for refusing assistance may vary from one person to the next. However, if you can determine what they are struggling with and make a caregiving plan accordingly, you might find that your aging loved one is more receptive to receiving help.

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