What to do when an elderly loved one refuses help

Care Facility - Elder Care Attorney in Bucks CountyIt’s an oft told tale these days. An 85-year-old father with failing eyesight still drives, despite being involved in some fender benders. A 70-year-old mother-in-law with severe arthritis, refuses to move into a personal care facility even though she can barely navigate the home she and her husband bought over 50 years ago.

What is an adult child to do in a situation like this? You know that a loved one needs help and you want to prevent receiving an emergency call in the middle of the night about your relative. Still, you have a job and a family of your own to take care of, so it isn’t feasible for you to drop everything to be their caregiver 24/7. Add to that, the fact that most elderly parents value their independence to the point of downplaying or denying any problems. So, what can you do to help your parents, in-laws or other relative in this situation? Here are some tips from elder law experts on how to approach your loved ones about accepting help.

Start early and be persistent

The best time to talk about bringing in help is before a crisis arises. Look for opportunities to talk about hiring a housekeeper, home health aide, etc. Talk about it over a meal or coffee. For example, you can mention that a neighbor moved into a personal care facility recently and ask what he or she thinks about that.
Ask open ended and probing questions

Once you get started, you have to keep it going. Ask, “What is it like to care for Dad/Mom?” and “Why don’t you want in-home help?” Listen carefully to your parents’ responses and validate their feelings. Of course, don’t be surprised if your parents give you short answers, then ask about your day. Gently redirect the conversation back to the loved one’s living situation.

Offer options and focus on benefits

When you mention things like home health aides, state that having an aide to help with cooking and cleaning will free up time and energy to do other things, like participating in favorite hobby or spending time with the grandkids. Also, let your parent or loved one pick the days a home health aide comes to help. While offering options and mentioning benefits seems like, yet, another thing you have to do to get your loved one on board with accepting help, sometimes you have to “sweet talk” parents or in-laws into doing something that is for their own good.

Mention the consequences

Time and age take their toll on the human body and your elderly loved ones aren’t as spry as they used to be. So, if your mother, who has osteoporosis, insists on having throw rugs in the house and won’t allow for modification in the bathroom; explain to her that having rugs and no rails in the bathroom will increase the likelihood of falls, and falls lead to broken hips, and broken hips lead to nursing home stays, which you know she won’t want. Therefore, if she wants to remain safe at home, she needs to agree to home modification.

Bring in others

Sometimes all the listening, question asking, sweet talking and consequence mentioning won’t work. That’s when you need to bring in others. First, bring in family members and friends to talk to your loved one about accepting help or moving to a personal care facility. If that doesn’t work, bring in professionals such as clergy, a family doctor or a geriatric social worker. A friend, family member or professional may be able to get through when you couldn’t.

Of course, this is not a one and done task. Expect to bring this up many times and remember that as much as you love your parents and want what is best for them, as long as they are of sound mind, they are free to make their own choices. While you don’t want anything bad happen to them, things happen and sometimes it takes a nasty fall or a day without food for a parent to realize that help is needed.

If you find yourself in need of some legal assistance for yourself or an elderly loved one, please contact the elder law attorneys in Bucks County at Newman Elder Law. Get in touch with us to learn how we can help.


Care.com – Strategies to Help a Parent Who Refuses Care

Forbes.com – Helping Aging Parents Who Don’t Want Help

Arbor Company – 15 Expert Tips When Aging Parents Won’t Listen

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