4 Tips When Struggling with an Elder Who Refuses Care

Recognizing the loss of independence and the fact that you are no longer able to care for yourself is difficult at any age. And, for seniors, it’s no exception, although you may notice fairly clear signs that your elderly parent, grandparent or loved one needs help with daily tasks.

Things get more complicated when the older person refuses to receive the help we offer. Sometimes the refusal may be related to some cognitive deterioration or even the early symptoms of senile dementia, making the help of a home caregiver more necessary.

However, in most cases, the older person’s refusal to receive help is based on such natural feelings as fear, pride or stubbornness to accept the changes associated with aging.

On the other hand, as children or grandchildren, it is also difficult for us to understand this seemingly irrational refusal because we want to do everything we can to keep them safe, healthy and cared for. And of course, we are afraid of losing them!

So we get angry when we hear for the umpteenth time something like:

  • I don’t need help. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself.
  • I don’t want to go to a nursing home.
  • You mean I’m too old? I’m not. I can still do everything.

So how do you talk about it without getting angry and get them to accept help if they really need it?

Here are some tips based on extensive experience in elder care services and the resources provided by our geriatricians and therapists:

1- To Understand, It Is Best to Ask Why They Are Refusing Help

Ideally, this conversation should be had before the need for help is apparent, with questions like,

“How would you feel about having help in your home such as a housekeeper?” or “How would you feel about hiring a driver to take you to medical appointments?”.

This way, the senior would be willing to talk about it in a crisis.

But if there hasn’t been an opportunity to talk about it before, it’s best to be empathetic and ask the reason for refusing help. Here are some questions that can hit home:

“Are you afraid of losing your privacy?”, “Does the idea of having a stranger in the house bother you?”, or “Are you concerned about the financial aspect?”.

Showing empathy will allow you to put yourself in the other person’s shoes to understand the truth of the reasons for their refusal to receive help and try to work on them so that the senior loses the fear of facing change.

2- Never Treat Him/Her Like a Child

There is nothing a healthy or ill adult hates more than being treated like a child. Despite the seriousness of his situation, treat him like an adult and never talk about him to other people as if he were not there.

Always remember that the way you talk to them says more than the words you use.

Ask them for their opinions, what they think about the issue of an overnight helper, a therapy companion or help with household chores. You’ll see in what areas they think they need help. Acknowledging that they are still able to manage on their own in other areas will help them not to feel overwhelmed and allow for dialogue.

3- Bring Him/Her Along and Be Subtle

If you’ve already broached the subject and found that he or she still refuses to help you, try talking about it with the senior in the presence of someone else whose opinion he or she really values. Sometimes a friend may be the person you trust most to bring up the subject. Other times, you may want to include a younger family member, grandchild or nephew with whom the older adult feels a greater affinity.

Even if you have someone with you, start the conversation in a subtle way, with comments like these:

“I’m constantly worried that something will happen to you when you’re alone,” or “It stresses me out that you don’t have help with chores,” “The boys adore you and want to take full advantage of you, which isn’t possible if you don’t accept help.”

In this way, the elder will feel that he is accepting help more for others than for himself, which will keep his pride intact.

4- Pick Your Battles

There are times when you have to accept that the senior will refuse help. After all, this is an older person who can still make decisions about his or her life.

This will be a very stressful time for you: try to talk about it with someone in the family so that they can help you. But don’t try to cover all of your mother’s or father’s needs by rushing to solve their lives while you lose your own independence.

Figure out what your most pressing needs are and let others try to meet them on their own. When they see that they can’t, they may put aside their denial and accept the help you offer.

Are you dealing with an elder that does not want help? What are your thoughts on the subject and on the tips shared? Let us know in the comments below.

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