How To Care For Parents When They Don't Want Help

By Sue and Laurel

Caregiving isn’t easy in any circumstance. It takes time, energy and patience. For many, their whole life revolves around their caregiving role and they may sacrifice things in their own life in order to provide support to their loved one. In some cases, the individual receiving care may struggle with accepting help making caregiving all the more difficult. Understanding the reasons why someone may be apprehensive to receiving support can help to frame your approach to care.

Some people living with dementia or a mental health diagnosis may experience what’s called Anosognosia, a term which loosely means “lack of awareness or insight” in Greek. Their condition blocks their ability to know and therefore, accept anything is wrong. In these cases, the way the help is presented and language you choose is the key.

  • Focus on an environmental factor, rather than your loved one’s need for help. For example, gift a housekeeping service as a holiday present or bring a meal over saying that you, “made too much.”

Taking the focus off of a loved one’s need for help may make  assistance more appealing. It also helps maintain their feelings of independence and dignity- an important key in caregiving.

For caregivers of people living with dementia or a mental health diagnosis, it’s important to keep in mind how the words they say may be affected by their condition. The person they are caring for  may appear unappreciative or even resistant to  assistance. The individual may even say hurtful things  to the person trying to provide support.

It can be very difficult for family to grapple with their emotions and not take these challenging and hurtful symptoms personally. For some, a parent who is saying hurtful things may be something new where suddenly they are saying things they never would have said previously. For others, these may be exacerbated personality traits. In any case, maintaining a positive sense of yourself (and your sanity) is critical to your own health. Some tips:

  • Ensure that you are establishing boundaries as a caregiver.
  • Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. While there is a chance your loved one may forget, in the moment, it’s okay to gently express your hurt.
  • Sometimes, going along with what your loved one can diffuse a situation most effectively. In cases like this, try not to think of it as giving in, but rather preserving yourself and reducing your stress.

For other older adults, reluctance to assistance is as simple as wanting to preserve independence. Aging can bring many changes and accepting assistance isn’t easy. Caregivers can provide support by:

  • Offering your loved one choices. Think about options that you can provide your loved one with that you would be comfortable. Which meal delivery service? Would they like help with transportation or housekeeping? Keep your loved one in control of their life by providing as many options as safely possible.
  • Starting small. Change is hard for anyone! Prioritize your loved one’s needs and begin with the activities that carry the most risk to their physical safety such as grab bars in a bathroom and securing rugs reduce risk of falls. Making changes one at a time will be more effective than entirely changing their routine at once
It’s just not going to happen. Sometimes, implementing help can feel impossible. It can take a significant amount of time, and it’s not always possible to “force” your loved one to accept it. In these cases, come up with your own backup plan. In the event of an emergency, do you know what resources are available? Home care? Residential care?
  • Try aging in place technology. Small interventions using technology can be a way to introduce the idea of help in a way that doesn’t significantly impact your loved one’s routine and offers caregivers the insights they want. Livindi Solo is a great way for families wanting to help a loved one “warm up” to the idea of technology by helping them see the benefits from it. Older adults can easily start a video call by pressing a family member’s picture. A video call is a simple way for caregivers to see how their loved one is caring for themselves. The tablet is also a digital picture frame. The whole family can share pictures and videos directly and is a great way to help an older adult continue to feel included and important

While you may not be implementing this help exactly when you’d like to, knowing you have a backup plan can bring peace of mind in the event of a crisis.

No matter what the reason is for your loved one to be resistant to help, try to build in quality time together. It’s easy to spend every visit focusing on what needs to be fixed but doing something enjoyable can ease tension for you both. It can also create smooth transitions into help and create opportunities to address the need for assistance in a positive manner.

Supporting an older adult results in a change in relationship dynamic for everyone. Understanding your loved one’s emotional experience can help smooth the transition into accepting assistance. Most importantly, it’s key to have patience with yourself as you work to implement help for your loved one.