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 careisthere.com. Care is There is based in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Therese Anello says
Do you have an specific articles regarding caregivers as siblings? My younger brother (age 57) has been under my care for the past 10 years. He lived with my deceased parents all his life. Although he has tried to live independently, his needs have changed and I am looking to place him in an assisted living facility.
I have taken on the sole responsibility of taking care of all his needs – personal, financial, legal, etc. It is a huge burden and has taken its toll on my health. I am getting help, but I would love to know if there is even an organization out there that is geared to what I am dealing with on a daily basis. Thank you.
Elizabeth Swider says
Thank you for all the care you have given your brother and continue to give! Lovely people like you earn a very special place in heaven, I like to say!
Bravo also for seeking out the assistance that you need to make your life work as well as making his life work.
I don’t have specific articles about siblings as caregivers, but your experience will be very valuable to share with others who are in your circumstance. You might try http://www.AgingCare.com, which accepts questions from caregivers and emails them out to professionals for a response. That site also gives you easy access to other caregivers who might share your concerns.
You might also contact a geriatric care manager in your area. We (Care is There) are located in the Charlottesville Virginia area and can support you if you live in our area. Otherwise you should be able to find one in your area.
Also, call your local Area Agency on Aging and see what resources and support groups they offer.
And, think about starting a support group for people caring for their siblings. I’ll bet you’d be a great leader.
Lots of love to you, Therese, and let us know if there is anything else we can do to help.
Woot, I will cetrinaly put this to good use!
Israel Garson says
Hi there, just wanted to mention, I loved this post. It was helpful. Keep on posting!
Great advice Elizabeth! After months and months of back and forth arguing with my stubborn dad, I found one method that finally proved useful. I brought a health monitoring system in his home, which allowed him to remain essentially independent, and safe at the same time. Now he doesn’t have to deal with a stranger in his own home and he never agreed to assisted living. This is also a great article i found that gives some suggestions on what to do if your elderly parents refuse help http://www.criticalsignaltechnologies.com/blog/elderly-parents-refuse/
Elizabeth Swider says
It sounds like you were willing to listen to your dad and find a solution that worked for him as well as for you. A health monitoring system can be a great way to help keep a loved one safe without forcing them to move or accept outsiders.
Other people won’t want to be monitored, but might blossom when befriended by the right person or welcomed into a community they can identify with. The key is to help them discover what is important to them, and protect that while also finding some peace of mind for yourself.
Thanks for sharing your story, your success, and the article that helped you find your way.
This article was very helpful. I am only 47, but I’ve been dealing with my elderly mother’s health and emotional problems for almost five years, since my father died. My now-83-year-old mom has had several surgeries on her knee and hip since December 2010, including a complicated surgery this past January that led to more than four months in a nursing center. She’s still able to walk only a little with a walker and can’t stand upright for more than 20 minutes, and her home isn’t designed for a wheelchair. But her doctor still sent her home, and she’s resisting having any help at home beyond the nurse and physical therapist that Medicare is paying to come to her home. She needs more help than that because she can’t drive, can’t do housework and laundry and can’t cook meals for herself, and she needs good nutrition to get through the physical therapy. Mom has driven most of her friends away since my father died, and will only accept help from her elderly brother and sister-in-law, who also aren’t in good health; one neighbor; and my husband and me, who live an hour away and both work full time and usually can only manage to see Mom on weekends. DH and I want to hire a home care agency to take care of her daily needs, but Mom has resisted and even stopped speaking to us last year when we arranged for someone from the agency to come to Mom’s home to determine what she needs. My sisters are no help because they live far away and don’t visit regularly, so they don’t understand how bad Mom’s living situation is, and nothing I tell them can convince them to agree with me that Mom needs outside help. I wish her doctor had never said that Mom could return to her home, and had told her instead that she had to go to assisted living.