Caring for a senior family member can be difficult — particularly when your elderly loved one doesn’t want assistance or refuses to accept help.
Resistance to care is a common source of frustration for family caregivers. When all you want to do is make life easier and safer for the senior in your life, it can feel incredibly challenging to keep meeting with “no” at every turn, even on the seemingly small things like cleaning up the house or making changes to your loved one’s diet.
Many seniors try to avoid difficult care conversations, or downplay the severity of the challenges that they face. In other cases, seniors may get agitated, dismissive, or downright angry when you bring up the idea of making a change or bringing in an extra set of hands.
So, how can you help a loved one who doesn’t seem to want help?
One important step in finding a solution that works for everyone may be to try and understand your loved one’s concerns. Let’s dig into why so many seniors are reluctant to accept help — and what you can do to bring everyone together:
Why Do Seniors Refuse Help?
If you’re having trouble encouraging your aging parents to accept help, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, this is one of the biggest challenges that family caregivers face here in Chicagoland and around the country.
From having difficult talks about giving up driving, to trying to step in and help a senior manage their medications, to bringing on a home care provider, it can be difficult to have open, honest, and meaningful conversations about getting help with a reluctant senior.
One key to making progress may be understanding why your senior loved one is hesitant to accept in-home care or support. The better you understand your loved one’s concerns and fears, the better you can address them — and find a solution that can make everyone comfortable.
Not too long ago, geriatricians at Northwestern Medicine set out to learn more about why seniors refuse care, leading focus groups of older adults in rural, suburban and urban areas of Indiana and Illinois.
Their important study suggests that there are a few primary reasons why seniors refuse to accept help:
They’re afraid of losing their independence.
Among many seniors, there is a fear that accepting help will limit their independence, or create a perception that they can no longer manage things on their own.
Our culture is one that prizes self-reliance, and many older adults tend to be afraid that accepting assistance is the first step to giving up the lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to.
The vast majority of older adults want to age in place — and there is a real fear that giving up one small thing can snowball, until they’re forced to leave their home or move into a care facility.
At the same time, there is a very real fear and shame that many people associate with growing old. As Michelle Barnhart, a researcher and professor at Oregon State University, put it to AgingCare:
“We go from thinking of ourselves as children, then young adults, then adults — then we stop.”
As AgingCare continues:
“…conflicts often arise when younger family members interact with their aging loved ones in ways that challenge their identity as a competent, capable adult… When their identity is threatened, older adults may lash out — sometimes even engaging in dangerous behaviors to prove their abilities and reinforce their own self-concept.”
They want to remain in control.
Does your loved one always eat breakfast at a certain time? Do they have an outfit that they prize above all others? Are their books, magazines, and medicine set up just so? Over time, it’s easy to get locked into routines and patterns — and seniors may be reluctant to take any action that can disrupt their flow and make them feel like they’re losing control of their lives.
Many seniors are afraid that home care will be a violation of their privacy, or upend their daily routines. Aging can feel daunting, overwhelming, and scary, and many older adults respond by digging in, and exerting control over what they can — whether that’s their over-the-counter supplements or what they eat for breakfast.
They’re afraid of seeming like a burden.
As Northwestern Medicine explains:
“Even if help is readily available, seniors may feel like they may be a hindrance on others.”
After a lifetime of taking care of others, it can be incredibly difficult to admit that you’re the one who needs help. Many seniors are afraid that accepting care might make them seem vulnerable, or permanently change their relationships with their family and friends. At the same time, many seniors simply want to make life as easy as possible for their loved ones, and not be a source of worry or concern.
Fear of becoming a burden is quite common. In fact, one major study from the Alzheimer’s Association found that 70% of adults worry about being a burden to their children. In this study, people ranked their fear of becoming a burden as one of their greatest worries about aging, placing it above their fears of moving into a nursing home (56%) or even passing away (46%).
They’re resistant to change and not sure who to trust.
Growing older can bring with it some scary and unpredictable changes. Many older adults respond by going into “denial mode,” refusing to accept help as a way to minimize their own uncertainties and fears for the future.
This situation is compounded when seniors lose trust in others. It can be difficult to accept help and develop new relationships, even under the best of circumstances. It can become all the harder for seniors, who may be grieving the loss of friends and family and are reluctant to welcome new people into their lives. For seniors, it can be intimidating to think about working with an in-home caregiver or professional driver, especially if they’re used to living alone or concerned about the costs of care.
Changing the Conversation: How to Talk About Care With Your Elderly Loved Ones
As a family caregiver, your first priority is the health and safety of your elderly loved one. So, how can you manage a senior’s concerns, and help them get the care and support they need to keep living independently? Here are a few steps you can take to move the conversation forward when a senior loved one is resistant to getting help:
- Explain your needs. If your loved one is reluctant to get help for themselves, emphasize the benefits that making this change can have for the other important people in their life — including you! Your loved one may be willing to compromise and accept additional help if they feel that doing so would make life easier for you. Many seniors find comfort and happiness in helping others, and framing care in this way may be a good way to make everyone feel like they’re lending a hand.
- Make sure the senior feels heard, seen, and validated. Don’t talk around or steamroll your loved one’s ideas. Remember, your senior loved one deserves respect. Their voice and ideas are important. Make sure to really listen, be empathetic, and try to understand their concerns and needs. Ask about their preferences, and try to work together to find an arrangement that everyone can agree to. If it helps, encourage your loved one to be hands-on in the process, and include them in interviews with home care companies or share your research.
- Research and think ahead. Your senior loved one may find lots of ways to shoot down your ideas. They could bring up factors like the costs of getting care, or deny that they’re having any issues with their health. Think about what arguments your loved one might make, so that you can address their concerns even-handedly. For example, if you know your loved one will be concerned about the price of care, you could come prepared with quotes from different home care providers, information from their long-term care insurance provider, or a cost/benefits analysis of getting help now versus waiting for a health problem down the line. Have specific examples and research ready to go, so you can keep this talk grounded and productive.
- Reframe how you talk about care. As the resource AgingCare puts it: “many conflicts can be avoided if the adult child takes time to frame their proposal in the right way.” Be proactive about emphasizing the positive benefits of care. You can reframe the discussion in a way that will make your loved one feel more comfortable. For example, you could emphasize that they’ll be getting a “companion,” instead of a “caregiver.” It may also help to reiterate that you want to help your loved ones to remain at home and enjoy their independence. By finding care, you are trying to help your loved one keep the lifestyle they’re currently enjoying, not take anything away.
- Recommend a trial run. As the Mayo Clinic explains, “a trial run will give a hesitant loved one a chance to test the waters and experience the benefits of assistance.” If your loved one is reluctant to get care, a trial period can be a great way to showcase how easy and useful having an extra set of hands might be.
- Set priorities and “pick your battles.” Take time to thoroughly assess your loved one’s needs, so that you can set down priorities and get them the help they need the most, when they need it. For example, if your loved one needs access to a reliable driving service, start there. Focus your energy on this conversation, knowing that you can always move on to other aspects of care later. Early on, try to focus on the big picture and moving the conversation forward, rather than getting caught up on minor details or personal arguments.
- Bring in an outside voice. If you’re having trouble connecting with your loved one, they may listen and respond to advice coming from someone they know and trust, such as a doctor, a personal friend, a religious leader, or a care professional.
Looking for a Local Senior Care Resource?
If you have any questions about caring for the older adult in your life, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Companions for Seniors. We’d be happy to field your questions or concerns, share our experiences, and talk over what it takes to care for your aging loved ones.
If you have a parent or relative that you believe could benefit from the assistance of a professional caregiver or senior companion, we are here and ready to help.
Our companions are trained and insured, and can help your family shoulder some of the responsibilities of caring for an aging loved one. We are locally owned and operated in Chicago, with clients in the city and suburbs.
At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help provide seniors with a higher quality of life, while also offering respite and peace of mind for family caregivers who might need some support of their own. Our companions help stimulate our clients physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, empowering them to live an active and enriched lifestyle, connect with their community, and nurture meaningful relationships.
We can provide a variety of services designed to help seniors remain safe and secure in the comfort of home, including assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), driving services, housekeeping, laundry, meal preparation, and much more. At every step of the way, we know the importance of providing a trusted, reliable service that you and your senior loved one can depend on, while fostering an open dialogue, celebrating ideas, building relationships, and always going the extra mile to provide unique value.
Have any questions about Companions for Seniors? Want to get in touch? Whenever you’re ready to get started, give us a call at 866-910-9020, or fill out our contact form, available here.