Resource Center / Health and Lifestyle / What to Do When Elderly Parents Refuse Help

What to Do When Elderly Parents Refuse Help

Learn how to work with your parents when they refuse your help. Seniorly can help you talk with them to mutually make the best decisions for their care.

By Lydia Bruno · Updated Aug 08, 2022

Why do the elderly refuse help?

Aging can be scary. Older adults often fear the unknown and can be resistant to change and seeking help. Feeling like you are losing control over your life and the thought of losing your independence can be very frightening. Older people do not want to be told what to do or how to do it. So, how do you convince your aging loved one that they need help? 

Understanding why your aging parent acts stubborn and refuses help is important in approaching the conversation with empathy, respectfulness, and understanding. Your parents may be experiencing different thoughts, emotions, or motives than you are as they age. The fear they are experiencing about their own situation may cause them to become difficult at times. This also makes it difficult for them to ask for help from others.

Watching your parents make dangerous decisions can be tormenting. For many adult children, the shift from care recipient to caregiver sparks an identity crisis. They often struggle with how best to approach this new role and looming responsibility for their loved ones' emotional well-being in addition to physical needs that might arise.

Despite the fact that aging parents clearly 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.

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

  1. Have a conversation early on. You may have to have a few difficult conversations in the beginning, but don’t wait until a crisis happens to talk to your parents about their future. Find out what kind of care they will accept under what kind of conditions. Do they want a live-in caregiver? Do they prefer home care services? 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? Will they need to find a memory care facility? Find out what would be acceptable to them and start working on a plan for the future.
  2. 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. Can they drive safely? Is house or property upkeep falling by the wayside? Try to accept the current situation for what it is and make adjustments to it. You want to make sure your parents have all the care they need for a superior quality of life. Find out what activities they need help with, mental health issues they may have, and what adjustments are needed in their life.
  3. Offer options. Provide solutions to their healthcare problems that allow them to have control over their situation. Make sure your loved one is a part of the conversation 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 choose family caregivers or outside help? Give them several options for them to choose from.
  4. 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 understand and validate their fears of getting older and help them work through their fears by creating a plan together.
  5. Get professional elder care support. If you need more assistance, enlist the help of geriatric professionals and healthcare providers. If you are trying to help your aging parents, but they refuse all of the assistance that is needed for their happiness and well-being, it might be time for professional assistance. Consider asking for help from your parent’s doctors, friends, geriatric case managers, a social worker, or religious figures in their life. Obtaining support from prominent figures in their lives will prove your concerns are valid and their well-being matters to all the individuals involved in their life.
  6. 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.
  7. Be their partner. Find one important thing you can both agree upon and figure out the best way to tackle the issue together. Don’t try and parent your parent, but rather be their equal and work together on decisions.
  8. Let their decisions be their own. 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 frame the decisions into something they can get behind and feel like they made them themselves.
  9. Include them in all plans. Let your aging loved one know that you care about them, and include them in future plans. Even without an official diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, there can still be a lot of difficulties living with any kind of memory loss. Use this time to discuss future plans even if certain conditions don’t exist at the moment.
  10. Involve people your parents are comfortable with. Involve the whole family in decision-making about caregiving responsibilities. Choose trusted family members such as siblings or grandkids that will work with you and have your parent's best interests at heart. You and your family members may not always agree about what is best for your parents. Make sure to set boundaries with your difficult family members and get outside help if needed for final decisions.
  11. Choose your battles. It is a good idea not to try and take on all your parent's issues at once. Deal with each battle starting with the most urgent ones first.
  12. Consider all of your parent’s options. You want the best personal care for your parents. Deciding what the best care options are out there can be a tireless job. 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.
  13. Plan ahead and discuss all the plans ahead of time. Have a productive conversation with your parents before a crisis may happen. Let them know they are in control of their own lives but the future needs to be planned out before anything should occur.
  14. Provide several options. Stay positive about the choices at hand. Even if your loved one does not need support now it is never too early to start making plans before the help is actually needed. Talk about all their options about help with daily tasks to senior care needs in the future.
  15. Encourage the option of your help. Your loved one may not want to deal with future issues in the present but start with them enlisting your help. Let them know that if you are not given the chance to help then others that may not have their best interest at heart will be making decisions for them instead. Let them know you have their best interests and you would be the best person to help.
  16. Be understanding. Understand their motivations and what they are looking to achieve with their healthcare and living options. Try to be understanding of all that they are going through and their thoughts and feelings about their circumstances.
  17. Be prepared for resistance. While you want to avoid negative emotions about your plans you may face resistance 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.
  18. Discuss options carefully. 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.
  19. Be patient. It may take some time for your parents to open up about their feelings on the matter. Don’t beat yourself up. Find an outlet for your own feelings whether it is counseling or a support group.  Taking care of your parents is not an easy task. Be kind to yourself.
  20. Respect their independence, but offer support. The bottom line is you want the very best for your parents. Check in with your parents often to offer support when you can. Try to support and accommodate them to the best of your abilities.

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 will help with your parents’ healthcare options, medical conditions, and financial support. For further information pertaining to elderly people, 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 two resources can help to determine what level of care your loved one is eligible for:

Start looking for assisted living communities near you
Share this article
written by:
Lydia Bruno

Lydia Bruno

Copywriter for Seniorly, with 5+ years experience in professional caregiving and senior housing
View other articles written by Lydia

Sign up for our Healthy Aging Handbook

Seniorly’s Senior Living experts created a comprehensive handbook to help people age happily while ensuring they love where they live. Enter your email address below to receive your copy and learn more about Healthy Aging and Senior Living.*

*By submitting your email address above, you consent to receive occasional email communications from Seniorly, including educational content and tips, newsletters, and other relevant updates and offerings. You can unsubscribe at any time and we will never sell or distribute your email address to a third party. You can view our Privacy Policy here.