How to Help Elderly Parents who Refuse It

If you’re the adult child of an elderly parent, you’re concerned about their welfare and have started thinking about how to care for them in their remaining years. You may have even discussed this with them. And like many adult children, you may have met some resistance from your elderly parent on this subject. Perhaps they’ve rejected the notion of hiring additional help, or refused taking their medication. Worse yet, they may continue to do certain risky activities such as driving. It can be extremely frustrating to deal with such a parent. You love them and want to help, but they resist, and even become belligerent. What can you do to make them see that you know what’s best for them? The truth is that you can’t. Your parents are adults and can’t be forced to do anything. However, you can take steps to convince them as best as possible that they may need some extra help.
Why do elderly people refuse help? Let’s face it—growing old is very difficult to accept for many people. Consider the typical human life cycle. You start off as a helpless child with no independence and little autonomy. You later celebrate milestones related to independence and adulthood such as graduation, learning how to drive, and turning 21. You spend most of your life as a self-sufficient adult. Then one day you realize that you’re not as cognitively sharp as you used to be, or that you tend to get hurt a little more easily.
To add insult to injury, your own children—who used to completely rely on you—are suddenly telling you what to do. They insist they know how to help and care for you better than you do. And it’s not just your kids, it’s society at large. Elderly people are often seen as weak and childlike, no longer contributing to society.  Growing old is also a sobering reminder of one’s own mortality, of realizing that you don’t have much time left. Many elderly people don’t want to accept this and prefer to believe that they are still young and healthy. It’s not surprising then, that elderly people often stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that they need assistance, even when all the signs are right in front of them. Arguing with them is pointless and just leads to frustration from the both of you. However, here are some tips that may be helpful. It may take time and not all of them may work, but you can save yourselves a lot of anger and hardship in the process.
Observe your parent and their environment prior to bringing up the subject. It’s possible that your elderly parent may not require that much help in the first place—or at least, not yet. Before you start talking about hiring caretakers or assisted living facilities, see if it’s possible to simply make a few adjustments in their lifestyle or environment. For example, if they need to use a ladder to reach certain out-of-reach objects, then relocate the objects to a lower level. Consider installing rails in their bathroom. Offer to drive or make dinner for them a few days a week. Make sure rooms don’t have tripping hazards: check for bunched-up rugs or exposed cords on the floor.
Carefully broach the subject. Being told by one’s adult children that they are no longer capable of taking care of themselves can be jarring to many people. Some will be offended, and lash out. It’s a tough subject to discuss. You must take great caution when you bring it up to your parent. First of all, choose a time in which both you and they are calm and in good spirits. Second, talk to them with respect. They are still your parents after all, and adults. Third, don’t issue ultimatums or risk alienating your parent. Consider doing it as a group effort and include your siblings (if any) and your other parent. However, don’t make your elderly parent feel like you and the other family members are “ganging up” on them. Perhaps you can outline certain steps to assist your parent, such as taking turns with your siblings driving your parents, or hiring a caretaker a few days a week.
Seek professional help. One reason elderly parents stubbornly refuse to listen to their adult children is because in their minds, they are still superior to them. It’s hard to accept that the child you raised is taking charge of your life, in a way. They might be more willing to listen if they were to talk to an unrelated third party, particularly a medical professional. Unlike yourself, the medical professional won’t be emotionally clouded and stick to facts and reasons.
Consider using services that aren’t exclusive to the elderly. If your parent doesn’t require medical treatment but a little assistance with day-to-day activities, you can use services aimed at everyone. For example, hire a housekeeper and gardener; sign them up for grocery delivery; open an Uber/Lyft account for them. This way, your parents receive assistance without feeling “old.”
Enroll them in an adult day care facility. If your elderly parent is still able to care for him/herself at night but just needs some assistance during the day, then adult day cares may be the answer. Adult day cares such as Sunshine offer medical assistance, fun activities, and an opportunity to make friends. Adult daycares also highly promote independence because they’re only open during the day. It’s a great option for elderly parents who don’t feel comfortable with having hired caretakers in their home. Bring along your parent when you tour the facilities and get their opinions. Consider referring to them as “adult day programs”, because the term “day care” may be insulting to some elderly parents, who are used to hearing the term to describe a children’s facility. The last thing you want is for your parent to think you are infantilizing them.
Let them figure it out for themselves. This may be difficult for you but if your parent is extremely resistant, you may have to let them come to the realization on their own. If they find that they can’t button their shirt neatly, so be it. If they get lost going to their favorite restaurant because they can’t remember how to get there, then that’s on them. As long as they’re not a danger to themselves or others, consider letting them experience these things.
If you’re interested in enrolling your elderly parent in Sunshine Adult Day Care, please call 845-473-6900 and talk to one of our experts, or to schedule an appointment.