Six Successful Strategies When Your Elderly Parent Refuses Help

The most difficult, and common, dilemma adult children face is dealing with an elderly parent who won’t accept help. You may spend hours worrying about Mom. Perhaps you’ve already had to rush in and deal with a crisis or two. When your elderly parent refuses help that you know she could benefit from, it’s heart-wrenching.

A study done at Oregon State University provides insight into why this can be so difficult to navigate. Essentially, the way we’re offering assistance makes our aging parents feel “old”. We equate growing old with negative traits like dependence, confusion and feebleness. Who wants to feel they need help rather than having something to give?

Another important reality is the desire and freedom to make our own decisions, good or bad. As long as she’s competent to do so, Mom may make decisions that frustrate you. However, you can clearly communicate your concerns and set your own boundaries. Also, keeping in mind these research findings and our experiences, you can try a different approach. Here are the top strategies we’ve found to be successful when attempting to help a reluctant aging parent.

Ways to Help Your Mom When She Resists Senior Care:

1. Build a planning and support team.

Your Mom may not be ready to accept home care or move to an ALF. But, you can help her to be as prepared as possible. This also means you’ll be better off if a crisis occurs. 

Organize records and paperwork, and make sure it’s easily accessible. Make sure Mom has visited key planning professionals (estate planning/elder law attorney, financial advisor, CPA, care manager). They can help ensure she has updated documents and plans in place. Often, they can be quite helpful in understanding the bigger picture. Their input may get Mom thinking about her choices and ways she might be limiting them. And, they can also be allies in suggesting help. An outside party sometimes has better success. Remember, you are the daughter or son, no matter how old you are.

A care management consultation, or assessment, would be ideal if Mom is open to it. Let Mom know it is similar to meeting with other planning professionals. It is a way for you both to get a baseline picture and to understand what help may be available. (We can help with how to approach the idea and referrals to planning professionals, too.)

2. Create an agreement and outline boundaries.

Hold a family meeting. It will be helpful to have a professional involved to guide the process. Think of it as a formalized way to document your concerns, Mom’s concerns, and how your family will determine when and what help is needed. Everyone doesn’t have to agree to everything, but you will be able to come to some understandings. This is also a time to set clear boundaries, so that Mom’s decisions don’t put you into constant crisis mode.

This working agreement should set some guidelines. The outcome might be that Mom agrees to in-home help a couple days/week so that you and your siblings will be comfortable with her continuing to live at home. For example, a family had a meeting with their care manager and Dad. He had continually refused any help. The siblings had narrowed down five changes they felt were essential for Dad to be safe at home. In the end, Dad agreed to three. And, they set a check-in meeting for one month. Dad also agreed that he would consider other options if he had any crises. If, for example, he had a fall or ER visit, he would temporarily go to an ALF or bring in respite care, which the care manager would arrange. She would then conduct an assessment to develop a long-term plan.

*This meeting shouldn’t be the first time you bring up these discussions. We encourage everyone to open a dialogue early. Understand your parent’s perspective. Imagine how it might come across to feel suddenly confronted with uncomfortable realities. When things can be addressed proactively, it gives your parent time to process and maintain a sense of control.

3. Help make her home aging-in-place friendly.

You can prevent a lot of problems by making the home environment safer for aging. If your Mom won’t accept help, make it easier for her to help herself. Click Here to download a room-by-room falls prevention checklist. Or, better yet, get a professional home safety assessment.

Make things more accessible. Simply rearranging can go a long way to improve Mom’s functioning. And, it can reduce the chances of injury. Mom may not be ready to have someone help with her bath or cooking. But, she doesn’t need to fall using a step stool to get to the top of her pantry. Or, slip because she doesn’t have grab bars in the tub.

4. Offer help that won’t be seen as “care”.

People of all ages use transportation services (who hasn’t used Lyft or Uber?), housekeeping and home maintenance services. These types of assistance may feel less like admitting you’re old and need help.

Listen to your parents and pick up on cues about areas they might want assistance. Before jumping in with suggestions, observe how they’re doing and what they’re having trouble with. Start small. Check out “Five (Not Just Senior) Services to Make Life Better as You Age” for ideas.

5. Make a friendly introduction.

Make it less confrontational by introducing a “friend” who can help with household tasks, provide rides, etc. Maybe you even talk about how this person has helped you around the house. This puts things on a more level playing field.

It will also make them more comfortable. We often hear clients concerned about “having a stranger in the house”. However, that is often out of a concern for how they will entertain and interact with the person rather than any fear. So, it’s also a good idea to be diligent in preparing the person and outlining duties. You can read more about this in our Five Etiquette Rules for Having a Caregiver in Your Home.

6. Open windows of opportunity.

Perhaps you help Mom with certain tasks or take her to doctor’s appointments. If you’re going to be out of town, it’s a great time to bring someone in to help temporarily. The same goes for a period of illness, post-surgery or after a hospitalization/fall.

Remember, we don’t want to see ourselves as old. But, we all understand needing help at times like these. It gives Mom the chance to have a positive experience with care. Put extra effort into setting it up right so chances are high it is a positive experience. Grab our checklist for having a successful respite care experience.

Worried about your aging parent and not sure what to do?

Consult with an aging wisely expert about your situation: discuss approaches, find options, schedule an assessment, hire transportation, meal prep or other support services.