How to Care for an Elderly Parent Who Refuses Help

July 21, 2023
Giselle Bardwell
It is an undeniable fact that as we, and our parents, grow older, everyone is bound to face various health and lifestyle challenges. Aging parents often struggle to maintain their independence, while their adult children are increasingly concerned for their safety and well-being.

One of the most challenging situations is when aging parents refuse the help they need, even when offered with genuine concern and love. This delicate situation necessitates acknowledging our parents' autonomy while simultaneously ensuring their safety. In this blog, we aim to provide practical tips and strategies on how to deal with aging parents who refuse help so that you and your parents can navigate this sensitive time with a better understanding of each other’s needs and perspectives.

Understanding Aging Parents' Perspectives

The first step in taking care of an elderly parent who refuses help is to understand the reasons behind their refusal. There could be many reasons why elderly parents may refuse help, such as: 
  • their sense of pride 
  • a desire to maintain their independence
  • the feeling they’re losing control
  • a fear of being a burden to their loved ones
These feelings are valid. But so is your family’s concern for their safety (e.g., trips and falls) and their ability to safely carry out activities of daily living (e.g., showering). It is important to approach the situation with empathy and compassion, and to avoid dismissing their concerns or becoming confrontational. Addressing these reasons can help you find solutions that meet their needs and preferences.

Respect Their Autonomy 

Assuming they have not been deemed incapable of making their own decisions, it is important to respect the autonomy of elderly parents and their right to make their own decisions about their health and well-being. It is not always easy to accept that our parents may not want the help that we think they need, but it is important to listen to their wishes and respect their choices. 

This can help to maintain a positive relationship and build trust between you and your parents. While the initial conversation may not end in a solution, over time, your parents may come to see that your intentions are genuine and valid. This is a big life-changing decision that no one wants to rush into.

Provide Education and Information 

Providing education and information can help an elderly parent understand the benefits of receiving assistance. This can include information about the:
  • risks of falls and injuries
  • importance of maintaining good nutrition and hygiene
  • downfalls of forgetting medications
  • complications of daily living
You may also want to provide information about the different types of assistance that are available, with the costs and benefits of each. While there are a number of options in the Cleveland area, not all care is created equal and not all types of care are right for them. Make sure you invest the time to thoroughly research senior care options and different service providers!

At BrightStar Care here in Cleveland, Ohio, our in-home private duty care options are tailored to your loved one’s needs with a personalized plan that makes everyone comfortable. With a full continuum of in-home care services, BrightStar can work with your family from the time your elderly parents need just a little bit of help to when parents need 24/7 care.

Effective and Compassionate Communication with Aging Parents

Once you have gained insight into your parents' perspective and have the education to have a conversation, the key to successfully addressing their needs is to engage in open and compassionate dialogues. Consider these tactics when communicating with your aging parents:
  1. Choose the Right Time and Setting: Ensure that the environment is comfortable and free from distractions. The conversation should take place when everyone is relaxed and not under a time constraint.
  2. Be Respectful and Avoid Condescension: Treat your parents as adults, despite their age or health. Speak to them kindly and speak to them as equals—avoid "parenting" them or speaking down to them.
  3. Use "I" Statements: Instead of focusing on what your parents are doing "wrong," express your concerns through "I" statements—such that you explain how their actions directly affect you. For example, instead of saying, "You need to get help," say, "I worry about you when I see you struggling."
  4. Offer Options Rather than Issuing Ultimatums: Present your concerns as suggestions and explore possible solutions together. Encouraging your parents to participate in decision-making can help them feel more in control.
  5. Be Patient and Prepared for Setbacks: Changing behaviors and accepting help is a process that may require multiple conversations.

Involve Parents in the Decision-Making Process

Involving elderly parents in the decision-making process can help them to feel more empowered. This can be especially important if they are resistant to help.

Offering choices can help an elderly parent feel more in control of their situation. This can include offering a choice of caregivers, or allowing them to choose the time of day when assistance is provided. It's important to be flexible and accommodating, while still ensuring their safety and well-being.

Taking the time to discuss the options with them, and to listen to their concerns and preferences, can also help to build trust and make them more receptive to the idea of accepting help.

Create Caregiver Connections

Finding creative solutions can help an elderly parent feel more comfortable with receiving assistance. This can include finding ways to make assistance less intrusive, such as hiring an agency with caregivers who speak your parent’s language or have the same cultural background. 

It can also include finding ways to make assistance more enjoyable, such as scheduling activities or outings with their caregiver. If your parents and caregiver are sports fans, they can bond by listening to Cleveland sports broadcasts together. If your loved one enjoys being outdoors, a trip to the Metroparks on a sunny day may be appreciated. These positive experiences make being cared for actually enjoyable and allow your parents to make genuine connections.

Seek Professional Help

If an elderly parent refuses help from family members, they may be more comfortable accepting outside assistance. This is especially true for parents who feel like a burden to their children or don't want to be seen as weak. This can include hiring a professional private duty caregiving agency, or finding a volunteer program that aids elderly individuals in their homes. 

If your parent is still not onboard with accepting help and their health and well-being is at risk, it may be necessary to seek the advice of a professional. If your elderly parents have dementia or Alzhimer’s, it is essential to have an intervening party, such as:
  1. Healthcare Providers: Doctors, nurses, or therapists can provide recommendations based on their patient experience and knowledge of your parents' health conditions. They can also objectively assess the risks and benefits of living independently.
  2. Geriatric Care Managers: These specialists are professionals in senior care planning. They can offer unbiased evaluations, develop customized care plans, and recommend appropriate resources and services.
  3. Legal Consultants: Elder law attorneys can address potential legal concerns, such as drafting wills or establishing powers of attorney, that may arise when it comes to caregiving decisions.
  4. Senior Care Counselors: These counselors are experienced in helping families navigate the challenges of dealing with aging parents. They can provide emotional support, advocacy, and guidance throughout the process.
These professionals can provide guidance and support, and can help you to find appropriate care that meets the needs of your elderly parents and addresses your concerns. Addressing any underlying emotional or psychological issues can help break down the barriers and create an open space for constructive conversations.

Considering Legal Options for Aging Parents

If your parents' well-being is at serious risk and they continue to refuse help, it may be necessary to explore available legal options. Depending on the severity of the situation, you might consider obtaining a conservatorship or guardianship to protect your parents' best interests. These options should be considered as a last resort, and it is essential to consult with an elder law attorney to discuss the potential consequences and the possible alternatives.

Respect Your Parents’ Boundaries 

Ultimately, you need to be respectful of your elderly parents’ boundaries. It's important to understand that they may have limitations and preferences that need to be acknowledged and considered . For example, they may only want assistance from a certain family member, or they may not want help with certain tasks.

If an elderly parent is resistant to having a caregiver in the home, you may be able to find a compromise by having a caregiver come for a shorter period of time each day, or by having the caregiver focus on other tasks that the elderly parent needs help with that doesn’t make them uncomfortable.

Helping an aging parent who refuses care can be a challenging and frustrating task, and practicing patience is key to success. It's important to remember that change takes time, and that it may take a while for your parents to become comfortable with receiving assistance. With patience and persistence, you can build a positive and trusting relationship with your elderly parents, and ensure that they receive the care they need to age with dignity and grace.

If your parents want to age-in-place and you have questions about what kind of care could be best for your loved one or you would like help starting the conversation, please contact us via our website or by calling 440.613.1500. We’re here to help 24/7.