It can be a huge worry when you see your parent or elderly relative struggle to remain independent and safe. Whether it’s their insistence on driving with deteriorating health, a refusal to have a personal aide help with bathing and grooming or a down right stubbornness that they are fine managing the stairs.
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 ageing, 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.”
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 need to understand what parental behaviours trigger your emotional response and realize you have other choices.”
Here are 9 strategies to help you overcome the objections of an elderly 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. “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.
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.
4. Offer options
If possible, include your parent in interviews or in setting schedules. 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, museum visits and other favourite activities. Browse local senior care to find help and assistance.
5. Recruit outsiders
“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. 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. You don’t need to explain every aspect of care the aide will provide before the relationship has been formed. This may help 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.
9. Accept your limits
As long as seniors are not endangering themselves or others, let them make their own choices, says Cohen. 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.