When Aging Parents Don’t Want Help

When Aging Parents Don’t Want Help

Have ever heard your parent say, “I don’t need help”, “We are fine” or “You will have to carry me out in a box”? If so, you are not alone. Adult children often have different opinions about how their aging parents are doing. It can be challenging to manage these differences. You may feel helpless, angry, or frustrated; expecting a crisis that will force a change. If this sounds familiar, here are some things you can do.

1. Check your own perception.
Does your parent really need help now or are you worrying about what might happen? While your parent may not be able to do everything they used to do, it doesn’t mean they need help. The Know When Parents Need Help Checklist can help you see where your parents may be struggling. This will give you a place to start a conversation.     

2. Think about their competency.
 Parents are adults and can make decisions that we disagree with. They can choose to live at risk. You can offer help or suggestions, but it is up to them how they want to live. If you feel your parent is not able to make decisions due to dementia or other health conditions, an assessment by a healthcare provider may be required. It is not up to the family to decide that someone can no longer make their own decisions. Based on the healthcare provider assessment, an alternative decision-maker may be needed.

3. Check your assumptions.
Do you feel that your parent is being stubborn or isn’t aware of their changing abilities? Avoid making assumptions. They may be aware of the issues but are uncomfortable talking about them with you. They may be thinking about what they need and want but aren’t ready to talk about it. They may be embarrassed or afraid that they will lose control over their life.  

Starting a conversation with assumptions will only lead to conflict. Try asking open questions. Focus on understanding their perspective. Ask how they are feeling about their living situation. Is there anything they are worried about or finding difficult?   Have they ever thought about moving or getting help where they are having challenges? What do they want to happen in the future if things change? Pay attention to the things that they are finding most difficult not the things you are worrying about.

4. Start small. 
When a concern is identified, it can be helpful to start small. Focus on one issue at a time. Finding a solution for a problem you both agree on can be a great starting point for bigger decisions. For example, having someone help with the housework or buying prepared meals might help them accept more assistance when it is needed. Remember that needing help doesn’t always mean someone has to move to a care facility. There are other resources that can be considered before taking that step.

5. Be patient.
A shift in thinking after a single conversation is unlikely so don’t be discouraged. If your parent becomes upset or angry it is time close the topic with something like “give this some thought” or “maybe, we can talk about this another time”. Giving your parent time and space to think about the conversation and work through their own emotions may reduce resistance over time. 

6. Be mindful of the relationship.
Avoid focusing on your concerns every time you see or talk to your parent. Make time to just be with them. Plan to have conversations about topics you both enjoy or continue to do things together. Remember that they are still your parent. Your role is to support them to deal with changes that aging brings, not to parent them.

7. Understand the options.
Sometimes people just won’t budge. Many older adults end up in a crisis that forces them to make decisions. You may need to accept that you cannot change the situation. Help yourself by learning about the services and living options in their area so that you can step in quickly if something happens. This gives you a sense of control over a difficult situation. Talk with friends and family. They may have suggestions or just be there to listen. Friends and family can also provide a different perspective on how your parent is managing. In some cases, your parent might be more open to accepting help from a friend or other family member.

8. Get professional help when needed.
Your parent may be more comfortable talking with a professional about their situation. A family physician can be a good starting point. Senior Care Access Consultants work with older adults and their families to navigate these transitions. The consultants are knowledgeable about services and living options and have experience supporting individuals who may be reluctant to accept help.   

Supporting your parents when they won’t accept help is difficult. Understand that you will have different perspectives. Respect their right to make decisions about how they want to live. Tackle one thing at a time and learn about the services and living options that are available when your parent may need them on short notice. No one can predict or control the future, so avoid letting what might happen next impact the time you have with your parent now.