9 Strategies to Help a Parent Who Refuses Care

What can you do when your mom or dad won't accept needed assistance?

woman with senior elderly woman

Your mother resists in-home helpers, insisting you can wait on her. Your frail father won't stop driving. Your aunt denies the need for a personal care aide, in spite of her unwashed hair and soiled clothes. Your grandmother refuses to move to an assisted living facility "because it's full of old people."

Sound familiar? Nothing is harder for a family caregiver than an elder loved one who refuses needed help. "This is one of the most common and difficult caregiving challenges that adult kids face," says Donna Cohen, Ph.D. a clinical psychologist and author of "The Loss of Self: A Family Resource for the Care of Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders."

Before pushing your mother too hard to accept help, try to understand her fears about aging, says Cohen: "Many older people see themselves as proud survivors. They think 'I've been through good times and bad, so I'll be fine on my own.' Plus, they don't believe their children understand the physical and emotional toll of age-related declines."

A senior in the early stages of cognitive impairment may be the most difficult to deal with. "Your angry father or agitated mother is aware of this miserable change in their brain they don't quite understand," Cohen adds. Calm reassurance will help them cope with a frightening loss of function.

It's normal for family caregivers to experience rage, helplessness, frustration and guilt while trying to help an intransigent older loved one, says Barbara Kane, co-author of "Coping with Your Difficult Older Parent: A Guide for Stressed-Out Children." "You may revert to the same coping mechanisms you had during adolescent power struggles with your parent -- screaming, yelling or running out of the room," she says. "You need to understand what parental behaviors trigger your emotional response and realize you have other choices." (And Kane advises considering seeing a therapist yourself if necessary to deal with a difficult parent.)

Here are nine strategies to help you overcome the objections of a recalcitrant loved one:

  1. Start Early
    Ideally, families have relaxed conversations about caregiving long before a health crisis. Look for opportunities to ask questions like, "Mom, where do you see yourself getting older?" or "How would you feel about hiring a housekeeper or driver so you could stay home?"

  2. Be Patient
    Ask open-ended questions and give your loved one time to answer, says Care.com Senior Care advisor Mary Stehle, LCSW. "You can say, 'Dad, what's it like to take care of Mom 24 hours a day?'." But be warned: Conversations may be repetitive and tangential, veering off-topic. It may take several talks to discover the reason your mother, a meticulous housekeeper, has fired five aides in a row is simply that they neglected to vacuum under the dining room table.

  3. Probe Deeply
    Ask questions to determine why an elder refuses help -- then you can tailor a solution, says Kane. "Is it about a lack of privacy, fears about the cost of care, losing independence or having a stranger in the house?" says Kane. To build trust, listen with empathy and validate rather than deny your loved one's feelings. (Learn more about starting a conversation about care with your parent)

  4. Offer Options
    If possible, include your parent in interviews or in setting schedules, says Stehle. Let them choose certain days of the week or times of day to have a home health aide come. Emphasize an aide will be a companion for walks, concerts, museum visits and other favorite activities. (Find a senior care aide.)

  5. Recruit Outsiders Early
    "Sometimes it's easier for a parent to talk to a professional rather than a family member," says Cohen. Don't hesitate to ask a social worker, a doctor or nurse, a priest or minister -- even an old poker buddy -- to suggest your parent needs help.

  6. Prioritize Problems
    Make two lists, says Cohen, one for your loved one's problems and another for the steps you've already taken -- and where to get more help. "If you don't categorize your efforts, caregiving becomes this huge weight," says Cohen. Writing it down and numbering by priority can relieve a lot of stress.

  7. Use Indirect Approaches
    If your father has dementia, offering less information may be more effective at times, suggests Stehle. "You could let your parent know the aide is someone very helpful who can take your father on walks, fix him meals, and help him throughout the day. You don't need to explain every aspect of care the aide will provide before the relationship has been formed. This may make your loved one feel less threatened."

  8. Take it Slow
    Weave a new aide in gradually, says Kane. Start with short home visits or meet for coffee, then bring the aide along to the doctor's a few weeks later. "You leave early on some pretext, letting the aide accompany your parent home."

  9. Accept Your Limits
    As long as seniors are not endangering themselves or others, let them make their own choices, says Cohen. "You can't be at your parent's side all the time. Bad things can happen, and you can't prevent them," she says. "You need to accept limits on what you can accomplish and not feel guilty." It may sound unfeeling, but maybe going a day or two without meals is just the reality check an elder needs to welcome a badly needed helping hand.

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Comments (22)
Nice reiteration of the problem we are experiencing and we have tried all the recommended solutions. Nothing has worked. She is 91 yrs old and we are told we need to take action; however, she has to agree. We are aware that we can be charged with abuse if something happens. Med personal, gov agencies, etc will not help with the transition. They will readily penalize relatives! HELP
Posted: April 16, 2014 at 12:20 PM
My 70 year old friend developed polio when he was 9 years old. In spite of this, he did good in life up until age 60.
He has deteriorated to the point that he is in bed all of the time - even has a toilet/kamode in his bedroom. He only gets up once or twice a day to eat food that people bring him.
He can not bathe himself or do any personal care.
He is a hoarder with 60 years of stuff in the house - with only very small pathways between the piles.
He has had part time care takers in the past, but they don't last long and he depends on them to bring food, bathe him, do some cleaning, and empty out his kamode.
He REFUSES to go to a care facility because he does NOT want to leave his stuff - most of it is old boxes and clutter.
I live 30 miles away and work full time. He expects me to come every weekend to do caretaking and each week it becomes more grueling.
I call him every night and put up with complaining and verbal abuse from him.
I care, but no longer can handle the stress.
I am thinking of informing him I can no longer come help him - he is an intelligent adult who is responsible for his choices. He needs 24 hour physical care.
Posted: April 04, 2014 at 3:47 PM
Patricia Ann
My 88 year old mother refuses help. She is frail and her personal care to poor. My brother is a crack addict and lives with her. I really think my mother is emotionally abused. Brainwashed. Depressed. She and my father were married for over 65 years. My dad died two years ago and even before my dad died my mother refused to kick my brother out. My dad wanted him gone but my mother said no. My brother lived in the house since birth and I can not remember even once him living out side of the home. I feel helpless to help my mother because she has basically said she wants to die in her home. Their are people in and out of the house all times of night. I heard that they sell drugs in the house. I know this because neighbors tell me. When I question my mother she covers up for my brother and denies it.
I live in Maryland and my mother lives in Florida (Miami) Police have been called to house but they have no power to ask that the people leave. I am losing my mind. I don't know what to do. I have tried to get my mother to come live with me but she say's its too cold where I live. She has always been the person to take care of others. HELPLESS
Posted: March 27, 2014 at 8:09 PM
i have the same thing going on here,except my elderly person (male)is not a family member. However with that said,he is the closest to family i have,he looked after me during an illness and i stayed on and now i help him because i care a lot for for him(non-romantic)and feel like i owe him. i don't want him in a nursing home,his own family is M.I.A. except a daughter who calls every night but won't actually visit even though she has to drive within 1 mile of the house going to and from work. He is getting worse and worse,his eyesight is shot,no pariphial vision and he has glaucoma in both eyes to. i'm guilty f feeling rage when i try to explain just how bad his driving is,he can't stay in the proper lanes with out riding the center lane divider and the white line dividers. He chases cars that roar past him and he shakes his fist at them!!. with the type of crimes and the type of area we live in that is even worse behavor than if he did it in a small town. just today i tried to make him feel a part of things and asked him to call in 2 scripts for me. i gave him the number of the pharmacy and the names of the medications. he decided to question the pharm tech if i needed an inhaler with the the spiriva because i had told him to get a refill on a inhaler!!. hello! i told him and i even write down that i needed a pro-air inhaler and that i needed the spiriva to.all he had to do was just say what i wrote down. but no it couldn't be that simple i git back and he said well they will give you the spiriva but i asked and they said you don't need the other inhaler because spiriva comes with one.it was almost like he thought he'd straightened things out and 'set me right' about my medical needs.just SMH...sorry but i needed to vent. his family are rather useless,and his daughter talks to him for only 5 minutes or so and SHE does all the talking /complaining about her job so he doesn't get to talk much to be able show any memory problems.
Posted: March 24, 2014 at 11:24 AM
concerned son
My Father may have been smarter then EINSTEIN but he has Not been "Einsteining" too much in the past year. He asked me to move in with him because he recognizes his mental decline. He makes a financial mistake, and then like a driver who hits the shoulder and then overcorrects over the center line he SELLS the fund..even if it's a pension! He has the mail scattered around etc. We have a CPA (he did MY taxes until year before last). I got him eating well but then after a minor infection he is bedbound and dehydrated. I get a little ensure in him and jello or pudding and he asks for a snack at about 8PM most nights but stopeed eating entrees and salads. I know an IV or G-tube might be prolonging the inevitable (I am in the Medical Field myself) but I hate to let the Old Guy go! He's done SO much for me and he still knows who I am and watches the news (but stopped Bridge, shooting pool, and now reading the paper!) I took him to his PMD office and he had a barium swallow (he had postprandial nausea for months after breakfast and NOW is Always nauseated). I am thinking of medical pot. And I DO wish they'd do an EGD instead of just the barium study..he COULD have an ulcer. I had to take aleve and motrin away from him. I have a conference and a vacation upcoming along with a work assignment and will probably cancel all three.

Posted: March 14, 2014 at 11:21 PM
My father is 90 and lives out of state. He needs help but has refused and gets very upset with me. He's fallen twice and is very thin. He is very independent and is the boss and very stuborn I"am so stressed out each day i call or when my phone rings I'am 67 and not in the bests health what should i do? Ive been out their twice and get no where with him so I've stopped trying .Is this wrong??I still call every day and listen to him .
Posted: February 24, 2014 at 6:41 PM
I agree Debra...I see your post is a few years old but you really don't get many replies on your post here.
Posted: February 02, 2014 at 5:51 PM
My father, 89, has been turned down for help. My mother, age 81, has been ok'd for services by the state of Michigan. My father will not allow it! My dad is a WW2 Vet, eligible for help through the veteran's association. He has congestive heart failure with recent heart surgeries. He won't accept that help either. My siblings and I are frustrated. We, the three of us siblings, provide as much care and time as we possibly can. We all work, and cannot afford to lose our employment.
The guilt is overwhelming at times, however my father's stubbornness is starting to bother me. I am trying to understand. He gets very, very angry (this is how he gets his way) when we suggest additional paid help.
Posted: January 21, 2014 at 4:55 AM
Marion M.
I am an only child who lives in another state 800 miles from my almost 86 yr old mother. I have power of attorney and manage her normal bills, but she still gets mail and has written over 1100.00 in checks to scams. I am trying to become her payee for her SS check and pension so I can open an acct on her behalf without her having access to it. This week she made an appt for two of these scammers to come to her home. She is alone there with her dog.
Today I had s omeone take all her remaining checks and they reported she had a stack of checks written to the scammers all ready to mail. Those were removed. She has moderate dementia. She cooks and cleans and still drives a little. She does laundry and keeps house, more or less. But she isn't eating much. She has a dog that she is ABNORMALLY attached to, and is adamant about not moving to assisted living and certainly not without the dog. I have already made plans to go there next week and move her--without the dog-- to assisted living. She knows something is up and told her sister she will NOT go and will NOT give up her dog. I don't know what to do. She isn't making good decisions and I am worried about her safety. What happens if she refuses but needs to go?? Pls help with ideas. I don't know what to do. She lives a long way from town and doesn't want live in help.
Posted: October 02, 2013 at 10:51 PM
Laurel K
I think family members can only do so much before outside intervention is necessary. I have been asked by a family to clean their parents' home. It is disgusting and completely unsanitary for them to live in. The father is such a tight wad that he gets very annoyed if I spend one second more than an hour and a half per week because he doesn't want to write the check for any longer. He is not hurting for money at all, but is frustrated that his kids have told him he needs to pay for help keeping the house clean. I have made some progress, but only if I break a sweat rushing to get the 'basics' done before tackling the additional cleaning projects, like cleaning mouse poop out of their kitchen cupboards. I think in some cases a case worker would be so helpful for families to at least consult with. Sometimes strong words are accepted better if it's not coming from the kids. Also, I think in cases where the parent is adamant about NOT paying for or needing services, the kids just have to step up and pay for it themselves. I know that may not be possible in some cases, but if it's not state intervention might be the only way to rest assured that they are safe and living in healthy conditions.
Posted: September 19, 2013 at 12:30 PM
Photo of Vanessa F.
Vanessa F.
Nothing is working for my parents, and nothing worked for my husband's grandmother. When we talked to her, years ago, about going to live in an assisted living facility (because she kept falling), she told us she would never leave the house she built with Grandpa. She was so angry at us for suggesting it, and even though 10 of her church friends lived there, she wouldn't go. I can't help but think that even though she might not have lived any longer, had she moved, she would have lived a better, more fulfilling life. She was always so lonely, but seemed to not be able to see that she could do something about it!
Posted: June 26, 2013 at 2:03 PM
Lorraine T.
How does one find an aide for a mother who is extremely racist and will only
consider a white Republican!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted: October 03, 2012 at 9:03 AM
My mother was diagnosed with early dementia in March of this year while in the hospital for pneumonia. During this visit, spots were discovered on her lungs that doctors wanted to keep an eye on in two months. Against advice of physicians, we allowed her to go home. She was in and out of the hospital over the next four months but would refuse to go to the doctor on own and any help at all. Over the next 4 months, I watched her swiftly decline (unable to properly care for herself, her finances, her home, her dogs). All this time, she would refuse any outside help beyond me doing the shopping for her. There were several heated arguments with her when I would try to help any other way so I finally just let her go. During this time, I discovered that her home was going into foreclosure and the bills were piling up. In July, she was hospitalized again and this time they would not allow her to go home because the dementia had progressed to later stages. Also, advanced lung cancer was diagnosed. She is now in a skilled nursing facility where she is safe and receiving care. Her personality has changed drastically. We were always close, best friends but now I have become the "evil" one that is trying to control her life. The last time I visited her, she became so upset (screaming, calling me names) that she had to be sedated after I left even though I only was there at the most 20 minutes. This is one of the hardest parts is seeing this "new" person she has become and wanting the old person back. Then there is the guilt of not seeing her when I know there isn't a lot of time left to spend with her but I don't want her so upset that sedation is required. I have decided to give it some time before returning for a visit because of this. The staff at the facility is wonderful to keep me updated.
Posted: September 08, 2012 at 8:05 AM
Kristin K.
losing your mind before your physical abilities is truly heartbreaking to watch. hard to convince someone they need help when they dont remember they forget, don't believe they have dementia and do not need aid in getting up, bathed, dressed, make up on walk.
Posted: August 29, 2012 at 9:23 PM
I have one sister and five brothers and none of them will help-at all. My Dad sees this as a sign that he doesn't need help.
I am starting to hate everyone in my family.
Posted: August 10, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Kim L
Our mother was diagnosed in 1999, she lives in her home alone, our father died 7 yrs ago....One sister lived here in the same state all the yrs. Me and anoter sister moved back to the state before our father passed away. He gave ME the yougest the "athority" over my momma, legally. I have worked and fought with my family for the 7 yrs.....Now I know mom needs to go into a facility. There is one place that has a bed availible soon, we are trying to "unite" and get her in there. I have in 7 yrs finally realized I have done all I can do to help her, I am not happy to say this, it breaks my heart. I see the BIGGEST problem in our situation, everyone wanted to be in charge, and in charge of the money, but no one wanted to help mom. Now I can see us coming back togeather and hopefully unite and HELP OUR MOMMA. None of us are in the medical field but our children are. I have tried to spare my children, who are adults , from having to do for their grandmother, because she doesnt' know them and it hurts them. I think this is "the adult children" of the parent who should be responsible. I pray this works as I know taking her into a nursing home is going to be the hardest thing I've ever had to do....
Posted: July 18, 2012 at 2:06 PM
A few years back my brothers and I realized what lay ahead. Our dad has physical difficulites in addition to dementia. Our mother is physically strong with dementia. She has heart problems and small strokes but is still able to physically carry out daily needs. Daddy needs 24 hour care.

When Daddy broke his hip the second time and then his shoulder... coupled with Mother dropping him off twice at nursing homes...yes I said dropping him off!!! DHR and Daddy's family doctor he is now in a safe place. Our mother didn't want to take care of him nor pay for 24 hour care. I can't tell you the number of times she has put Daddy in danger. Mother would leave him alone and unattended for days. Using another person with advanced stages of dementia as a care giver (that woman is not in the nursing home).

FINALLY, we have a court order for Mother to be evaluated FURTHER. About 6 months ago she was formally evaluated and found to be stage 4. As time goes on she continues to decline rapidly. Mother is very sneaky and has convinced her family (she was number 9 of 10....and is 80 years old) that her "kids" are demons and want to take over her life. There is one cousin who lives in another state that has decided she will rescue Mother and Daddy from her demonic children.

The cousin emailed me that they only want to be together. Mother and Daddy have never been love birds. They have fought for 60 years and that only got worse as the disease progressed. At one point Mother could have had a room next to Daddy in assisted living. The health care facility says she cannot live there now. Mother is very sneaky as she was with a clear mind...now we have a woman who is biopolar, has dementia and sneaky. The courts and authorties have ruled that my brothers and I should be Daddy's guardian with my older brother the offical guardian. Finally, Daddy can receive the proper care without her sabotage.

We have been told our mother needs 24 hour supervision. She is unable to care for herself even though she is physically strong. Help with personal hygiene, finances, nutritian...she must not drive. We would be very happy for this cousin to take over mother's care! :). However, she must be willing to move in with mother or at least live in the same state and supervise her as you would a child.

Truly the problem for my brothers and I and our parents has been and continues to be...Daddy wants nothing more but to live the rest of his life with mother. He would be content with assisted living and mother. Mother has made it known for years that she does not love Daddy and doesn't want anything to do with him...except his money. They don't have alot of money. Proceeds from the sell of a house and a commercial business. Social Security check. Mother wants us to give he his share of the money and his social secuity check. She doesn't want him at her house!!! She has taken us to court to gain control of Daddy's affairs. The judge said no and ordered further evaluation of her mental state.

As my mother clings to this out of state cousin and her in state boyfriend...they are in their 60's btw...do they understand that if anything happens to our mother we will hold them responsible? Will this cousin be willing to be Mother's guardian? I do warn the cousin...you will follow the judges orders to the letter....you will be held accountable for her well being. She is our mother and we want what is best for her...our motive...we are motivated by love and knowing we are responsible for our parents well being....what is her motive...
Posted: July 15, 2012 at 7:58 AM
Photo of Lee B.
Lee B.
Hi my name is Lee Anna i m 54 years old. I have been taking good care of my mother thats 89 years old. And now that my older sister take care of her in maryland. i move to Charlotte to get neal my children, i m now looking for a part time job of help someone that need help so i do have experience with child care and helping the seniors, That is a gift the god gave me to do, so would you let me help you.

Thank You,
Mrs. Lee Anna Brunson
Posted: September 25, 2011 at 8:54 PM
Photo of Christina S.
Christina S.
I'm willing to do whatever there is to do to make sure there happy and feeling good. Im looking for a job and i know how to take care of older people i have experience.
Posted: September 22, 2011 at 2:44 PM
Photo of Debra R.
Debra R.
I am a caregiver.. a retired LPN- with a good background- if you post an ad on here. have the courtesy to reply!!! I have answered what little is on here.. and haven't heard back from anybody, not even a " sorry I hired someone" a reply would be great!!!
Posted: August 16, 2011 at 9:49 AM
Jennifer J.
Unite and Conquer~

Remember when you and your siblings tried to play one parent against another? If your folks were smart, they didn't fall for those games. They knew a united front was the best way to ensure family harmony.

You can take a lesson from that approach if you meet resistance to your overtures. It is recommended that adult children get together as a group to discuss strategy before confronting obstreperous parents. The younger generation can decide which issues should be tackled and how to approach them.

If you're an only child, or the only one who cares, you may need to join forces with someone your parents trust -- a clergy-person or a family friend. Having more than one voice expressing the same concern can have a powerful effect on even the most stubborn of parents.

It's possible, after trying every other approach to ensure your parents' safety and security, that you'll have to resort to drastic measures: confiscating the keys, sending them to a nursing home, having a court find them incompetent. If your parents can't take care of themselves, in other words, you may be forced to take over.

At some point, the parental roles may have to reverse.

Did you see anything useful here? Anything that you tried and worked?
Posted: August 15, 2011 at 12:07 PM
Carol M.
This is no help when you already asked your parents thes questions who are very stubborn.
Posted: June 29, 2011 at 7:15 AM
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