9 Strategies to Help a Parent Who Refuses Care
What can you do when your mom or dad won't accept needed assistance?
Elizabeth Pope, Contributor
Articles> 9 Strategies to Help a Parent Who Refuses Care
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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(43) Comments
My 83 year old mother has had a Urinary Tract Infection off and on for two years. She refuses to go to a doctor so the only way I can get her tested and antibiotics is to take her to the ER. It is extremely hard to get her to go. Beware of the signs of a UTI in elderly people. It can be mistaken for dementia. She gets extremely agitated and very mean. Very out of character. If your parent all of a sudden starts acting crazy and mean and agitated, get their urine checked somehow and good luck getting them to the doctor by the way. I understand that an untreated UTI can lead to sepsis and even death. There are probably a lot of old people who are given up on by their families because they are so mean and the family doesn't know it's caused from a urinary tract infection.
September 2, 2015 at 1:11 AM
I'm just glad to know my sister and I are not alone in this journey. Our mother is a very independent woman, and she fights us on everything. Love, some of your suggestions, and we are looking forward to trying them.
May 25, 2015 at 9:00 AM
My 86 yr old mother, who is 100% with it, does puzzles and writes checks for all bills etc, refuses to go to the dr or leave the house. She says she is in so much pain that she can't wait in the waiting room. I explain then how will you get relief? Now she wants someone with her to heat up her meals, basically she wants a servant, but doesnt want to pay. She is stubborn as the day is long. I'm afraid, as she, of her going down the stairs alone. Although upstairs there is plenty of room to turn one bedroom into a dining area with mini fridge, microwave and table to eat and therefore no stairs, she refuses to eat upstairs. I can come by daily on my way to work to be sure she has everything for the day. She walks fine, it's the stairs that are a problem. Regardless she refuses and needs someone to help her up and down the stairs. I work close, but I can't be there every minute as I have a home and children of my own. She won't come to my house because my stairs are worse. Obviously it's just being stubborn, but I'm afraid I will be charged with neglect if something happens while I'm at work or home, even tho I do everything for her already. I just finished two years of caring for my dad who had a stroke, and she never lifted a finger to help me. I can't afford 25 per hour for an aide to do nothing for four hours twice a day, that's 200 a day for ten minutes of helping up and down stairs and to hit start on the microwave. Why can't local caregiver services have a service for those who just need minor help or just a checking in that doesn't require 4 hours per visit. I just can't do it all, to go there twice a day, everyday...and shopping and chores etc..When will I have any down time, is that selfish? No, i have my own home and children to care for. It's effecting my job, my family and
my well being. We all seem to be in somewhat of the same boat.
May 22, 2015 at 2:08 AM
I like what you had to say about using indirect approaches. It makes sense that you can slowly ease someone into accepting care. In my opinion, when that good relationship is built with a caregiver only then will it be easier for the loved one to accept care.
April 16, 2015 at 4:38 PM
MYYYYY Mother (I think I can top any story) went into the hospital with diverticulitis she is 86 yo.
She threw up so violently she threw a blood clot to her brain. NOW.. she has NO communication. She can not speek, she can not write, and her eye sight is horrible. NOW she broke her foot,by mearly standing up and twisting it the wrong way... I have been care giving her for 4 months, I live 300 miles away. It has been a long winter.. Yesterday 3 rooms at Independent living opened up! Glory Hallelujah! NO... I want the deluxe room, my cheap brothers want a one room!
I have a RN from their coming Fri for an assessment. This is killing me watching the love of my life crumbling in front of my eyes. She does not want to go to I. L, she thinks she is just fine at home.
I'm thankful for the M B, I think they give us poor suffering kiddo's a place to vent when we can't get out to go to a shrink! ;-) Stay Strong Fellow Care Givers, God IS Faithful!
March 4, 2015 at 10:37 AM
Sorry to see all the problems, but glad to see that my mom and I are not alone. My father has always been very difficult and verbally abusive. However, in the past 5 years it has gotten much worse. Now 89, he has become almost impossible! After spending time in the hospital, and multiple doctor visits for checkups afterwards, home health care nurses, physical therapists, etc., we are told that he absolutely should not be alone and should have 24 hour supervision. He refuses to follow suggestions from caregivers, refuses medications, etc. He has recently started hitting, and has increasingly started throwing things during his many tantrums throughout the day. We are told that he has mental stability so we cannot legally force him to go into assisted living. However it is not feasible to have a "babysitter" for when we have to go out. My mom has her own medical issues at her age which makes it dangerous for her to be under such stress. Plus her physical abilities make it dangerous for her to deal with the possible dangers from his many tantrums. We just don't know where to turn. Social Services has been called, but we feel that if we can't find a solution, the only one is for both of us to walk away. After the years of verbal abuse, enough is enough. Someone suggested getting a lawyer who specializes in this type of law. If anyone has suggestions, we are open to them! Good Luck to everyone in these difficult situations!!
February 27, 2015 at 6:48 PM
I guess no one has answers on here.. I'm looking for what to do befor my FiL drives us crazy he needs to go to a nursing home but makes my husband feel threatened by him when he throws his walker and a hissy fit.. I was hoping to find answers
February 25, 2015 at 1:11 PM
My mother has exhausted me and my own children constantly interfere and cause me nothing but more stress. My mother is smart and sneaky with what she does to me constantly undermining me. Honestly I want to turn and walk away but aways jump back in to rescue her. Any suggestions?
February 2, 2015 at 10:17 PM
My heart goes out to everyone who has commented on here. It is never easy and I feel like even if we help we will always wish we could do more. I'm 30 my dad has Parkinson's, parkinsonism, glocoma, and some blood cell disease, and so he can't live alone. I'm in BC he's in Ontario, so I tell him to sell the house and decide who he wants to live with. He had a stroke and is hospitalized now and they don't want him to go home now, or ever, but to a nursing home. I fly out in 2 weeks with a 8 month old and a 4 year old to pack and sell the house I grew up in. With the two little ones wish me luck he doesnt want me to call in any other family because it may be too overwhelming for him, but he may not even be in the home when im there. I'm so young, but I feel like reading everyone's posts that it is never easy we are never ready and so what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. We can take what we are learning from our experiences and use this to prepare other loved ones and make less work for our children. Remember to keep the good times going, enjoy our loved ones while we have them, take a time out for hugs and story times. If you read this please say a prayer for my family.
November 9, 2014 at 5:13 PM
Dadrena Whigham
Dadrena Whigham
The problem we are having with our parents is about trying to make thing easier for them. My father feels as if he losing his privacy but my mom cannot help him in and out of the tub, getting him up and down the stairs. He had a Physical as well as a Occupational that come to there home twice a week on different days. And he answers the phone and tell them not to come. I am trying to get my mother to see that not good and putting more work on self I try to help as much as I can and I feel as if I being repetitive and fussing at her I just know know what to do anymore to make life easier for my parents please someone help me I need them to be here as long as possible what do you do!
October 11, 2014 at 5:13 PM
My father is only 59 years old, he has CHD, Diabetes, neuropathy of both legs, kidney failure (dialysis 3 days a week,) epilepsy, severely pow BP, scoliosis, and full time dependant on oxygen. So that's not the worst of it.... A couple years ago he got mixed up in a FB scam and started giving money away. Since then he has lost his house, been evicted from an apartment he had a whole month and no one will rent to him because of it, he lives at a men's mission temporarily and still has NO money every month. Now let me make this clear, between SS disability and retirement he makes $1800.00 a month and in his area that is fairly good. The problem I'm having is he isn't willing to let me help him with his money (because I'm 600 miles away) however he can't (obviously mange it either.) His health is quickly deteriorating because he has no money to get to dialysis, Dr's, etc. I've read up trying to find out how to help and get no where because everything says he's "sound mind" so he can make decisions on his own. I can not afford an attorney to get him help and I do not know what to do. I can't just sit and watch him kill himself. Can anyone help me or direct me to someone that can help? Please?
September 19, 2014 at 6:26 PM
hi there, i have an elderly aunt who has no children , and her husband has passed away. She has been miserable with everyone of her family members and no one wants to deal with her. My sister has POA and is at wits end with her. My aunts wants to move closer so that she is not alone. I decided to help my sister with her care so we moved her up closer to us. My sister an I live 20 minutes apart. My aunt lives 5 minutes away from me now.
She is blind and is having a hard time getting comfortable with her new place, she is afraid that she is going to fall if she gets up out of her reclining chair. she has a portable toilet that is set up beside her so that she can go to the bathroom.
She has a PSW that comes in the morning to give her personal care ie. meal prep , shower . I go in the morning and at night to say hello to her and set her up with a meal or clean out her toilet.
I am a trained therapist and can teach her how to get around but she refuses to do so. every time I go to see her she yells at me and started chanting to her late husband and mother, why don't you take me away with you! I inform her that she can not yell as other people can hear her, her response ,who care!

How do I deal with her? I try to be patient but I have come to a point where I hate going there to get yelled at. She has only been at her new apartment for two weeks. I understand it is going to take a while for her to get comfortable, but how do I stop her from her verbal abuse? I have gone to her place for the last couple of days to give my aunt her dinner and she says don't worry about it ( I work and I do not get there till later) . we are in the process of getting pm help but it is not yet happened. what do i do in the meantime.
I am so stressed out! I have never dealt with such an inconsiderate person in my 25 years of working with seniors.

what should I do? Do I leave and do not feed her? she refuses to eat.
June 19, 2014 at 10:04 PM
My heart goes out to each and every one of you.My MIL is an 88 year old 89 pound ball of stubborn and angry.She has dementia,clearly, but it is undiognosed because she will not go to the doctor. She is aggressive with strangers ( and family half the time) so any help other than my husbands is refused.Now she is becoming aggressive with him and can go days without answering the phone. We are at our wits end. How do we just leave her there like this? How do we get her to go to assisted living? There are NO answers to either question and THAT fact is just beyond my comprehension .
June 18, 2014 at 2:58 PM
My dad has finally agreed to move in with me. I live 2 hours north of him. For the last 2.5years he has allowed this 25 year old girl to move in with him, along with her is her partner and any drug addict she comes accross. she also is a drug addict. (heroin) my father would have disowned my brother and myself if we had ever hung out with people like these. The most recent incident, this guy who also was living there didnt like the way these girls were treating my dad and he was arguing with them, he broke 2 windows in my fathers bedroom while fighting with them. This is just one thing I could write a book. Well luckily someone called the police and they came and removed them, but did not arrest them, theyve all been repeatedly in and out of jail. Anyway my father agreed to move in with me. Iam 60 years old almost and I live alone and happen to be moving to a larger place. etc. Hes the one who said he was ready to leave his house. Iam not moving until the 21st then I have to go down and try to move him, anyway Ive been trying to keep a close eye on him which is hard to do. His neighbors are praying he leaves, so today I asked him why he doesnt like normal people just these criminals. So he start accusing me of being controling etc. and warns me that hes agreed to move in so I better stop.. I told him that I just wanted to talk calmly, I told him I didnt want him to move in with me unless thats what he really wanted to do that I feel he should respect me and I him and he needs to make sure that this is what he wants. Because I dont need to be abused by him, and that I am always trying to help him and he acts like Im doing something wrong. Its rediculous!! Help.
June 12, 2014 at 4:56 PM
Lorraine W.
Lorraine W.
AlexisH, I always read theses boards but never comment. Your post compelled me, are you sure you are not talking about my mother? There is nothing about your post that I wouldn't say about my own mom. The only thing that I have to add is, my father is 79 and has advanced Parkinsons, and he thinks he's fine.what are we to do.......
June 7, 2014 at 6:47 AM
Paula G
Paula G
Hello, I feel we're all in the same Merry go Round that won't stop to let us off, how do we as decent children or adults get help, doctors won't help home health aid's that get fired, don't report anything, we've gone to our wits end (what's left of it) If we go to the State social services or DSHS and have them intervene, we're the bad guy so to speak, then it's neglect on our part. It all comes back to us what do we do when we can't/won't do anymore because of the personal abuse we're dealing with in every respect. I have all of the below plus the alcoholic. SO who is going to come to our rescue, before we loose sense of who we are ?? I hope whoever is reading this will come to our rescue and give us alternates, more options, direct us as what our next step is we all need HELP !!
May 28, 2014 at 7:21 PM
I had no idea so many other children had similar problems with their parents. I can't seem to get any assistance from police, doctors, etc. It's very frustrating..my father has alienated himself from all his children..he only communicates with me as I pay his bills electronically for him. He is in Ohio, me in Florida.
May 10, 2014 at 4:11 PM
AlexisH, I could have written your comment myself! My mother is 83 and has always been difficult. Now she is spending every day in her pyjamas and I'm doing all her shopping and getting doctors out when she screams in pain with imagined ailments. She rings at night asking me to go round with painkillers. My life's not my own and I've just had email from a relation in Scotland saying he rang mum today and she's feeling sidelined, is desperately lonely and needs more of my time! She has alienated every friend she ever had and says her books are her friends. She tells lies and feigns illnesses. I'm an only child and am at my it's end. The doc has put me on propranalol. I spend hours looking for an answer online and have just finished a book about narcissistic mothers. I'd love to talk to anyone who has an answer to this awful problem. I know I'm doing everything possible and yet the guilt is terrible.
May 10, 2014 at 11:26 AM
alexis h-you may just need to call adult social services to get your mom the help she needs-then just let go.
May 6, 2014 at 12:44 PM
Please--has anyone heard of support groups for people in our position? I'm the childless, unmarried only child of an 87-year-old mother whose memory was always what I referred to as "revisionist,"--now it's much worse--she called me five-six times a day to simply complain to me, until I said I can't do this now until I'm finished with my current project. I'm still working, but I work at home (I'm 63) and have a couple of health issues myself now. All she remembered was me saying she couldn't call me anymore and she's furious, or more furious than before. I'm beginning to wish *I* was dead. I've been called a bi*ch, greedy, crazy, selfish, and I'm still treated as if I were 12 years old. I hate going to my mother's house because she still smokes 2 packs of cigarettes a day (!!), the house stinks, she won't let me get anyone in there to clean or help because of her galloping paranoia (all those people steal or make sexual come-ons or worse, according to her). And she will NOT consider assisted living. She has no friends or social contacts, and is extremely bitter. She'd really love it if I moved into her basement. Her negative personality traits have only been exacerbated by age and now she's impossible. In short, she's pushed me away. I feel guilty but I'm trying to save myself. Nothing I've tried to do for her is remembered or good enough at the time it's done. I'd love just to be able to talk with others going through this. I feel like crying all the time and I have a demanding job that requires my full attention. It's my only source of income. Any ideas?
May 4, 2014 at 7:22 PM

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