Few things can be as complicated as caring for your mom or dad through their golden years. Managing your parent’s healthcare, finances and safety can bring on a flux of emotions in both of you. You may feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and ambivalent in your new role, while your parent may feel scared, vulnerable, and confused.
One common challenge adult children face when caregiving is their parent’s refusal to accept help. This can lead to a lot of stress on both sides.
If you’re dealing with an aging parent who is resistant, take heart in knowing that you’re not alone. In a 2015 study of 189 aging parent and adult child pairs, three out of every four of the adult children described their senior parent as “stubborn”. Understanding why seniors may reject offers for assistance and approaching your parent with care can help you have a more productive conversation.
Reasons for resistance
Aging parents may turn down help for a number of reasons. Your mom may see accepting aid as a sign of weakness and may say no to your offers because she’s always taken pride in being the family caregiver. Or she may feel embarrassed and not want to give up her privacy. Your dad may be in denial or angry about his declining health and believe he’s still fully capable of caring for himself.
Seniors may not know how to cope with the loss of their mobility or independence, so they may try to keep up old routines for as long as possible. Many parents simply don’t want to be a burden to their children, which causes them to refuse assistance even when they know they need it.
Tips for a successful conversation
If you want to help your parents, the first thing you need to figure out is if they truly need your support. Even though your parents may be slowing down with age, remember that they still have the right to be in charge of their own lives. You should only consider intervening when their health, safety or finances are at risk.
Here’s how to start the conversation with your aging parent about getting help:
- Be compassionate. Tell your parents why you’re concerned in a loving way, sharing specific examples of when you were worried about them. Be careful not to make accusations or make them feel like they’re being attacked. Rather than saying “I can’t believe you keep forgetting to take your medications,” say “I’m worried that your blood sugar won’t be controlled if you accidentally miss medicine doses. I can buy you a pill organizer and set reminders so you stay on top of your medications.“
- Give specific suggestions. Instead of just asking to help, be specific in how you can assist your parents. Suggest practical ways to make their daily activities easier. For instance, recommend a grocery delivery service, offer to schedule doctor’s appointments or hire a home cleaning company.
- Time it right. Try to talk to your parents when you’re both in good moods, and the atmosphere is relaxed. If your parents just received difficult news from the doctor, now may not be the ideal time to talk about changing their living situation, for example. Give them some space, and talk to them when the mood is lighter.
- Tweak your approach. If your mom sees a home health aide as an invasion of privacy, remind her that this person can also be a companion. If your dad is hesitant to try an adult daycare facility, tell him that it’s a deserved luxury and describe the amenities to him. Frame accepting help in a positive way that will seem appealing to your parent.
- Ask about their preferences. You may think you know what’s best for your mom or dad, but be willing to hear them out, too. For instance, if they’ve lived in their home for several decades, making the jump to an assisted living facility may be too big of a change for them no matter how practical it may seem. Instead, think about how you can compromise. Maybe you can make physical changes to their home that would allow them to age in place. Or perhaps you can hire a personal care aide to come to their house. Your parents may be less reluctant to accept help if you listen to their wishes and meet them halfway.
- Talk about finances. Seniors can be resistant to seeking professional assistance because they’re worried about how much it will cost. If your parent has Medicaid, Medicare or another health plan, find out what services are covered and share that information with them. Your mom or dad may also be eligible for benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, like home health aides, adult day cares, or hospice services. Knowing that care is covered or discounted may ease some of your parent’s fears.
- Call for back up. If your parent is having trouble hearing you out, ask family members and close friends to help you talk to them. Maybe your mom trusts her best friend’s advice or your dad always takes your brother’s opinion to heart. Or perhaps your parent would be more willing to listen to a clergy member or neighbor.
- Try, try again. If your parents decline your support, don’t despair. Just because they turned down your offer today doesn’t mean they will feel the same way tomorrow. You may just need to give them time to cool off and think about your proposition. You may have to approach them in a different way, or it may be better for someone else to talk to them. If, at first, you don’t succeed, keep trying.
Speaking with your parent in a loving, non-confrontational manner, being willing to listen and explaining the importance of support can be the ticket to getting your aging parent to understand where you’re coming from. However, even if you’ve handled the conversation with compassion, some parents may still be resistant. In this case, it may be time to seek professional help. Asking a healthcare provider or lawyer to step in may help your parent understand the gravity of the situation. Note that seniors who are dealing with memory loss and dementia may not be able to comprehend why they need aid, so it may be best to enlist professional help from the start.
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