Should You Push Your Stubborn Parents Who Refuse Elder Care?

Retirement

It’s nothing new when your stubborn aging parent refuses help. Maybe they have been generally stubborn for as long as you can remember. But with aging, you see them less and less able to do things, and you worry. Aging takes its toll on independence with everyday things like shopping, driving, cooking, and laundry. It can make even bathing and walking risky.

When you notice these things and speak up, you get immediately rebuffed. Sometimes a fall or other injury gets your attention again and you try again to talk them into getting help. You suggest hiring someone or even moving to assisted living. Nothing doing, they say. “I’m fine”. But you know they’re not.

How far can you take this? Can you make them come to a good decision?

The Roots of Stubbornness

Often, the emotion behind the refusal of help is fear. Most of us do have fear of losing control over our lives. Logic has little to do with this, as fear may be unspoken and you can’t persuade another person to not be fearful. It’s real. Pushing your aging parent can backfire. Then they can come to fear that you will try to force them and that makes it worse.

If you point out all the things you see and the risks of letting this go, your aging parent is most likely to tune you out. It’s hardest if you are dealing with a parent who was stubborn long before they got old. They’re the ones who never wanted anyone else to tell them what to do throughout their lives. They know and you don’t, right?

How To Break Through The Refusal of Help

Lots of older folks do not want to change and do not want to admit to declining ability. It’s not good for their self-image as strong, or capable or independent. Not everyone is this way, but you know your loved one. The approach you choose can make all the difference.

If you have a loved one who is on shaky ground when it comes to their personal safety, you need to come to the subject of getting help very thoughtfully. Here are some tips that work for others we meet in consulting with families at AgingParents.com.

  1. Choose a good time to bring up the subject. Mom or Dad probably have better times in any day when they are feeling more alert, or more comfortable. Some are morning people and some do better later in the day. Notice, and pick a time of day that is best for them, not just for you.
  2. Set the best context you can for the discussion. Perhaps your aging parent is in a good mood after a meal at a favorite restaurant or after an outing to a place they’ve always enjoyed. Maybe they feel most secure right in their own home, sitting in a favorite chair. Again, notice, and choose accordingly.
  3. Start by acknowledging that you understand that talking about safety and your opinions about it may be difficult for them. Recognize that it would probably be difficult for anyone to talk about getting help. Acknowledge that this is an emotional subject for them and that you respect the fact it is.
  4. Reassure them that you understand they want to remain in control and that you are not going to every try to force anything on them. Mean it. As long as your loved one is competent for decisions about care, you really can’t force change on them legally. With few exceptions, this is true regardless of how dangerous you think it is for them to be without help.
  5. Be honest about how worried YOU are, not how upset you are that they don’t want to do what you think they should. Make it your problem. As most aging parents say they don’t want to be a burden to their children, let them know that your worry and fear for their safety are indeed now a burden for you. Then, ask them to help you and make some concrete suggestions about how to ease that burden with the various kinds of help to consider.

Finally, don’t give up if you can’t persuade them on the first or second try. I had a mother-in-law who refused help for the first four years of widowhood at age 86, living alone in a big house. We at AgingParents.com are a nurse-attorney and a psychologist, her daughter-in-law and son. If we couldn’t persuade her, no one could. Somehow, at age 90, she suddenly decided it would be okay to move to a seniors’ community. We moved her. No one could explain how she came to that decision all by herself one day. I like to think it was the cumulative effect of all our efforts to get her to accept aging and to go there. But she wanted to be in control, and indeed she was. She made the decision and we immediately took action. Whatever you do, keep trying. Even the most hard-headed elders can change.

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