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What to Do When Elderly Parents Refuse Help

Have an elderly parent who is refusing help? Seniorly offers advice from experts on how to support parents who are refusing help.

By Marlena del Hierro Updated on Jul 10, 2023
Reviewed by Angelica P. Herrera-Venson · Reviewed on Jan 14, 2023

Aging can be scary. Physical, social, and cognitive changes and the loss of agency that often accompany them are enough to make just about anyone a little resistant and stubborn from time to time. So, how do you convince your aging loved one that they need help? How do you provide support that respects their personal values and addresses their current health status?

One of the first steps is to understand why your loved one may refuse help. Doing so allows you to approach conversation with empathy, respect, and understanding. Therefore, rather than clashing with your loved one, remain patient and gently encourage them to have a conversation with you.

Remember, your parents are in a different stage of life than you and have their own life history. As such, their thoughts, emotions, and motivations are likely to be different than yours. The same is true for their views on what’s best for them and what should happen next. They may be afraid and overwhelmed, which may cause them to avoid age-related discussions and deny that they need help. Some may even resist the help that they need to remain safe.

Even though  aging parents may need assistance with everyday household or personal tasks, they may still resist suggestions to get caregiving help at home or think about moving to an assisted living community. Seniorly shares advice on how to talk with aging parents about lifestyle changes and how to help convince them to accept the help they need.

9 practical tips on how to talk to elderly parents about accepting help

Talk early and often

You may have to have a few difficult conversations in the beginning, so don’t wait until a crisis happens to talk to your parents about their future. Let your loved one know that they are in control of their own lives, but the future needs to be planned out. Find out what kind of care they will accept and under what kind of conditions. Do they want a live-in caregiver? Would they prefer to go to assisted living where they could be under round-the-clock care? Are they possibly struggling with the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease and need to find a memory care facility? Find out what would be acceptable to them and start working on a plan for the future.

Assess the current situation

Try to find out which activities of daily living your parents need home help performing and those activities they can perform on their own. Consider what mental or physical health conditions they may have, and what adjustments are needed in their life. Conditions like Alzheimer’s may progress and your parents’ situation may need to be re-evaluated more often.

Let their decisions be their own

Allow your loved one to have control over their situation, and make sure they are part of the process when hiring in-home care or looking at senior living communities. Let them choose the days of the week they might need in-home care. Will they prefer family caregivers or outside help? Give them several options for them to choose from, and let your parents feel like they are making their own decisions, even if they have a little help. With love and understanding of their thoughts and feelings, you can also frame your own perspective into an idea that they can get behind.

Listen without judgment

You might not completely understand what your parent is going through but it’s good to show empathy. Observe what is going on in their life and listen to their wishes. Try to connect with and validate their fears of getting older and create a plan together.

Get professional elder care support 

If you are trying to help your aging parents, but they refuse all assistance, it might be time for professional assistance. Consider asking for help from your parent’s doctors, friends, geriatric care managers, a social worker, or religious figures in their life. Gaining support from prominent figures in your loved one's life will prove that your concerns are valid and their well-being matters to others. It’s also helpful to get external advice for yourself, perhaps from a therapist or another expert, to make sure that you aren’t being unreasonable and aren’t pushing over any boundaries. 

Treat your parents as adults

Even though it may feel like you have had a role reversal with your parents, you need to remember that they are still adults in charge of their own life. Aging is a hard adjustment and your parents should always be treated with respect. Respect their thoughts and feelings and try to work with them for the best possible outcome.

Promote yourself as the best person to help

Your loved one may not want to deal with future issues right now, but you can still begin enlisting services and setting things in motion. Lett hem know that if they don’t give you the chance to help, they’ll have to depend on others who  may not necessarily have their best interest at heart and will end up making decisions for them instead. Let them know why you are the person best suited to assist.

Be prepared for resistance

Although we all want to avoid negative emotions during the planning process, you may face opposition from your loved one. Point out the positives of receiving help from the outside. Frame it so they understand the benefits of accepting help so they can maintain their independence in their own home, if that’s a concern for them.

Discuss options carefully

Write everything down and list out what your parents’ needs are now and what future needs they might have. The list makes it possible to break things down into bite-size situations to find options for. This can be especially helpful if your parents have very different care needs due to an age gap or health issues. Frame suggestions carefully so as to not upset your parents but rather to advise what would be best for them. Don’t make it seem as if they are being forced into any ideas: ease them into understanding the positive outcomes of these decisions.

What elder care services are offered in the U.S.?

Your parents may not want help outside of the support from their children, but there are resources out there that can help with your parents with navigating health insurance options, manage health conditions, and provide financial assistance with nutrition, respite care, transportation, and more. For further information pertaining to older adults, please review the following resources:

Using these resources, caregivers can gain access to vital information and services that will help their aging family members stay healthy. The following resources can help point seniors and caregivers to local aging service providers and determine their eligibility for benefits and services, such as discounted energy bills, help with paying for prescriptions medications, and more

Start looking for assisted living communities near you

Works consulted:

  • Alexander Maier. "Risk Factors and protective factors of depression in odler people 65+. A systematic review." May 13, 2021.
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    written by:
    Marlena del Hierro

    Marlena del Hierro is Vice President of Partnerships and Seniorly’s Lead Gerontologist. Marlena earned her Master of Arts degree in Gerontology from San Francisco State University and her Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Development from California State University. She also serves in an advisory capacity for Jukebox Health. As Seniorly’s first employee, Marlena is a vocal advocate for evolving the aging paradigm, and is a frequent contributor to public discussions about aging. She has served as a resource for media outlets like WGBH, FOX News, CNBC and the Today Show.

    To learn more about Seniorly's editorial guidelines, click here.

    View other articles written by Marlena

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