Do your elderly parents refuse or resist your help? Frustrating, isn’t it?
As geriatric care managers we frequently see this happen within families. It can be especially worrisome to long distance caregivers for parents who are aging in place, but there are ways to communicate that can work miracles:
1. Let your parent be right.
Communicating requires that your parents actually hear you, and they can’t hear you if they are busy defending their position against yours. Allowing yourself to be wrong and them to be right (even when you are sure you are right) can reduce resistance by making them feel heard and respected: “Dad, I finally realized you were right about how to arrange the furniture. If I had done it your way the first time, it would have saved a lot of trouble!” When your parents are allowed to be right a lot of the time, they won’t automatically resist whatever you say.
2. Find out what they are protecting, and get on their side.
When an elderly parent refuses help they may be protecting something they feel they might lose as a result of the help — even if they aren’t aware of it. Hiring a housekeeper for your mother may make her feel like she is losing her identity and self-worth as the home maker. Try this: “Mom, you’ve always kept such a beautiful house; even as a child I was proud to bring guests to your home. I think you deserve to have someone do the heavy work for you. How about I find some housekeepers for you to interview so you can find one who will do a good job for you on the floors and windows?”
3. Agree with your parents that they don’t need any help.
Often, an elderly parent’s prize possession is their independence, followed closely by their pride. They will often sacrifice safety and comfort to protect those goals, so when you talk with them be sure you aren’t threatening those values: “I know you don’t really need anyone to check on you when I’m out of town. You’ve always managed perfectly. This is really for my benefit because I find myself worrying even though I shouldn’t. Will you allow this person to check in on you as a favor to me and my peace of mind?”
4. Offer to pay for the services yourself.
Elderly people want to leave their money to their family rather than spend it on services they think they don’t need. Explaining that the services are really for your benefit and offering to pay for them yourself can make the difference between your parents accepting assistance vs refusing it: “Mom, you and dad have always been so generous to me and the kids. Because of your support I’ve been successful and can afford to pay for things that can help you out in some small way. I’d be complimented if you’d allow me to pay for this person to do some driving and errands for you.”
5. Shake up the old dynamic.
If you and your parents are in the same old argument, try to drop your own resistance and try something completely new. Open your mind to the possibility that there could be a solution different than the one you’ve been championing, and let your parent know you won’t say what you always say: “Dad, I realized today that I haven’t been listening to you at all. I know you’ve said you don’t want to move out of this house and you know I have been worried about you living here alone, but I haven’t really thought about how we could make it possible for you to stay here and be safe. Would you be willing to talk to me about it again now that I’m really listening?”
These simple shifts can do wonders in a conversation and a relationship. If you communicate this way over time with your parents, they will begin to realize that you respect them and understand the things that are most important to them.
For more ways to help your parents to live as independently as possible and to help you manage their care, visit our website at www.careisthere.com. Care is There is based in Charlottesville, Virginia.