Watching aging parents suffer from mental and physical decline is one of the hardest things most adult children ever do.
Perhaps your father had a slow recovery after a recent fall. Maybe your mother’s house is suddenly filling up with expired food and heaps of dirty laundry.
If you’re involved in providing or finding appropriate care for your loved one, you may be experiencing a whole range of emotions: sadness, frustration, helplessness, and guilt (to name a few). These feeling are intensified when parents who need further help refuse it. Too often, the result is conflict.
How can you help your mom or dad remain as healthy, safe, and happy as possible – without losing your sanity? When it comes to how receptive a parent is to your support, what you say – and how you say it – is as important as you actions.
Here are five thing you can do to increase your chances of having a productive conversation.
1) Reassess the Risk
Your mom is refusing to hear your concerns. Every time you bring them up, she starts to feel angry or hurt. You wind up with a headache.
After a discussion that threatens to limit a parent’s independence, this outcome is pretty typical. And while you may not be able to avoid this type of response, it could mean you haven’t come up with the right solution.
Let’s say your mom has been receiving help from a personal care aide, but she’s not getting as many hours of help as she needs. After a lot of stress, guilt, and indecision, you’ve decided that assisted living is her best option.
This isn’t something most adult children take lightly. Once you’ve set your mind on the solution you think is best, you’re likely to stick with it.
But what if you’ve spent too much time thinking about worst case scenarios? When your mother doesn’t pose an imminent risk to herself or others, there may be other options.
If she seems isolated, try looking into safe and affordable transportation options in your area. If you’re concerned that she’s forgetting to take her medication, you might consider electronic reminders.
With the right technology, you can make it easy for your mom’s care aides to check in when they can’t visit in person.
Of course, staying at home isn’t always possible. But it’s important to consider all of your parent’s options – even when you’re imagining the worst.
2) Frame Suggestions Carefully
Be sensitive to the fears and insecurities that are causing your parent’s resistance.
In some cases, older people refuse help because they don’t want to feel burdensome. In others, they’re afraid of change, a loss of independence, or being viewed as incompetent.
Once you understand your parent’s motivations, you can frame your suggestions in a way that’s more likely to lead to productive discussion.
Let’s say you want to hire a housekeeper to help your mom with tasks she can no longer perform on her own. But she’s worried about the cost.
Your best course of action might be to tell her how her refusal is affecting you personally. How would it make you feel if she accepted your help? Would it give you peace of mind? Would you be more relaxed during the workday? Why not express these feelings?
If she’s refusing to let you drive her to appointments, tell your mom you’d enjoy spending the day with her. Nobody wants to feel like a burden. But most of us want to know that our actions are contributing to the lives of our loved ones.
When aging parents refuse help, it’s not unusual for adult children to respond with direct frustration. However you broach the subject, be aware of your tone.
3) Be Honest
Let’s say you’ve found an assisted living building that has a beautiful garden. Several times week, the staff holds watercolour classes for residents. You’re thrilled; gardening and painting have always been two of your mother’s passions.
It’s important to remember that what you see as the best possible living situation for your mom may be far from ideal in her eyes.
When offering suggestions, It’s okay to focus on the positive. But don’t shy away from discussing the details your parent is likely to find unpalatable. If what you say comes off as coddling, a productive conversation almost certainly won’t follow.
As aging parents become less able to care for themselves, existing dynamics with their children change. This role reversal can be painful. The last thing you want to do is intensify the pain by saying things that make your parent feel like a child.
It’s not uncommon for older people to be infantilized, even when they’re legally capable of making their own decisions. But that doesn’t mean it’s right. And it’s certainly not the best way to get a loved one to hear you out.
The bottom line: you want to help your parent make a major life change. Make sure that your reasoning – and the potential consequences of not taking action – are clear.
4) Observe and Listen
Are you unsure about how to best help your mom? Maybe you’re confident about what your dad needs, but he’s not receptive when you call to discuss it.
When an aging parent refuses help, you may not be offering the right solution. the truth is, we don’t always know our parents as well as we think we do,
You want to find a solution that balances your parent’s safety and wellbeing. You should understand your ailing father’s day-to-day struggles – and his wishes. Be alert for changes in his health, and try to get a sense of how he really feels about his situation. In other words: stay in touch.
When you talk to your parent, health and safety may be the only things you can think about. How can you discuss a television show or a niece’s graduation when your dad could take a fall after you hang up the phone?
People are more likely to take advice those who listen to them. Are you really hearing what your aging parent has to say?
Regular conversations can build trust. Your dad will appreciate the fact that you’ve taken an interest in the things that matter to him. You can also help him make better health decisions when you understand where he’s coming from.
Digital technology can help. For many older adults, tablets are a godsend. One of many things these devices can do is help people stay connected.
Finding the right app is key (you can try aTouchAway here – it’s free). No matter which technology you choose, make sure it’s intuitive and easy to use.
5) Be Prepared for Resistance
So, you’ve considered all possible options. You feel very strongly that if your parent refuses help, someone could get hurt.
It’s understandable that aging parents don’t always want to engage with life-altering suggestions. Your mom or dad may look for reasons to dismiss what you have to say right off the bat.
Many of us adopt this attitude, even in situations where the stakes are low. When we’re comparison shopping, for example.
Let’s say you need a new washing machine. When you go into the appliance store, you’ll compare various models. As a savvy buyer, you’ll look for reasons to rule out some of your options in order to narrow down your list.
Encouraging your parents to be open to a major life decision isn’t like buying a washing machine. But the comparison is apt in one way.
Like a reluctant buyer, your mom or dad is looking for reasons to reject your offer. And like a good salesperson, you need to present the strongest case possible by responding to whatever is holding your parent back.
The difference between you and a salesperson, of course, is that your number one priority is your loved one’s safety and wellbeing.
But emotions don’t have to hold you back from explaining your position clearly. Do the research you need to do. Carefully consider the points you need to get across. And be ready to respond to objections.
When Aging Parents Refuse Help, You Can’t Always Win
Discussing health and safety issues with aging parents can be stressful and emotionally difficult. But these are important discussions to have. There’s a lot at stake.
If expressing concerns to your mom or dad is causing a rift between you, remember that it’s likely temporary. Time may not heal all wounds, but it certainly provides perspective. When aging parents realize their children are taking action because they care, acceptance often follows.
That said, there are situations where no amount of talk will change things. If your parent refuses to move or accept outside assistance, you may have legal options. But if you don’t have these options (or you don’t want to exercise them), then acceptance is your only choice. This too is a feeling that comes with time.
Feature image courtesy of Vinoth Chandar