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What to do when an elderly parent refuses help

Why is my elderly parent refusing help?

While none of us have the right to tell someone else how to live their life, when we feel that a loved one could benefit from additional help but is resisting that help, it can be difficult. The reasons that they’re resisting will be personal to them and possibly complex, however they may include feeling they don’t need help or not wanting strangers in their home. This isn’t because they’re ‘being difficult’, there’s obviously some reason that they’re not happy with what’s being proposed, and as their loved ones it’s our job to work out what that is.

How to proceed if a parent refuses help

It’s vital that we step inside the world of the person who needs help, and we try to see things through their eyes. Ideally, the conversation about possible future care needs should be had way in advance of when care actually needs to be sourced, so that everyone is on the same page and knows what each other’s feelings are about it.

Make a rational diagnosis

Your parents have the right to decide what support to accept, and they may feel that they’re being forced to accept a situation that they’re not happy with. The issue of care should be approached slowly whenever possible; however sometimes the luxury of time isn’t an option. If your loved one needs care quickly then stress and frustration will be influencing everyone’s moods, which is why talking to Helping Hands about your worries and concerns about care will be helpful for everyone. Talk to your parent and ask them what their concerns are; perhaps they’re worried about preserving their dignity in front of a stranger, or feel they’re going to lose their independence.

Try to understand their fears

As we get older, it’s perfectly natural that – while we may feel physically older – emotionally we’re still young and able. If your loved one has always lived independently, they may feel offended that it’s being suggested they can no longer manage, and this can lead to tension and frustration on both sides.

Give them back control

Preserving a person’s independence is so important when you’re providing care for them at home; encouraging them to still undertake aspects of their daily routine if they want to is an important part of person-centred care. Just because someone is coming to your parents’ home to support them with certain aspects of their life doesn’t mean that they have to become passive in their care. We always encourage our customers to be involved in their care as much as possible and make sure that their support plan includes everything they like to do. By taking the time to discover ways to include them in their daily routine – for instance preparing food together or making sure they can undertake aspects of their personal care – it’s possible to reduce the concern they have. Starting slowly is always the best option, perhaps by fitting a device in their home that can alert someone for instance, which ensures they are kept safe while feeling that their home is still their own.

Be aware of the stigma around elderly care

While it may feel as if going ahead and purchasing a device or signing your parent up to a care service is being helpful, to them it will probably feel as if you’re taking their independence away, and the feeling that can instil in someone should never be underestimated. Being considered ‘elderly’ and ‘unable to cope’ may be the one thing that the parent has always feared happening in their life since before their child was born, and now they see the person they trust to keep them safe making their biggest fears a reality. From the child’s point of view this may come across as the parent ‘being difficult’ and ‘refusing help’, so they also need to tread carefully. Pendant devices for instance, may be something the parent associates with ‘old’ people and they may reject the idea, not wanting their perceived vulnerability to be obvious to other people. This may even lead to further isolation, where they avoid socialising because they don’t want others to consider them vulnerable. There are solutions though, such as voice-activated alarm systems, and ‘emergency’ buttons on mobile phones, that may offer the same level of support without the visible reminder that it’s there.

Have a realistic outlook

Panicking twenty-four-seven that your parent is going to have a fall or other accident is understandable, but it’s not going to help either you or them to live your best quality of life. You, because you’ll be preoccupied and stressed all the time, and them, because you’ll risk stifling through over-protectiveness, and consequently end up restricting their independence. We all want to keep our loved ones safe, however making everyone miserable at the same time is no solution. If you live some distance from your parents and worry how they’re managing day-to-day, then see if there’s a neighbour or close friend who can pop in regularly and let you know how they’re getting on. Even just giving your number to them as reassurance may be enough to let you get a good night’s sleep again.

Accept that some carers may not be appropriate

Perhaps your parent is anxious about the kind of person they’ll be having coming into their home, thinking they’ll be someone they have nothing in common with. After all, it’s difficult for some people to imagine a stranger coming into their home, especially if they’re going to undertake personal tasks for them. At Helping Hands, we will always try and match our customers with a carer who enjoys their hobbies and interests, so that they quickly become less of a stranger and more of a friend.

Care options for elderly parents

When care is going to be needed, there are many options available that people may not even be aware of. Perhaps your parents are so against having care because they feel they’ll end up in a nursing home, however that need never be the case. By choosing live-in care from Helping Hands, your loved one can retain control of their everyday routine, choosing to eat when they wish, get out of bed when they want to, and everything else that matters to them. This type of person-centred care is not usually available in care homes due to the staff-to-client ratio, but the 1-2-1 care you get in your own home on either a visiting or live-in basis is a solution that can work for everyone.


Your parent is still an individual and like any of us, we don’t always want to listen to things that we don’t feel are in our best interest. However, bringing up a topic calmly and avoiding emotive statements such as ‘you can’t manage anymore’ will help everyone to feel that their needs are being considered. Saying something like ‘where do you see yourself as you get older’ is a good way of broaching the subject without mentioning care directly and may even get a parent to admit they’re struggling with certain aspects of their day-to-day routine and would appreciate some help. If your loved one is living with dementia or another neurological condition it may be more difficult to have conversations around care with them, however patience and remaining calm is key for any circumstance and making sure you’re truly trying to see things from their point of view is essential.  Ask them why they don’t wish to have a carer coming to their home and listen to their reasons without interrupting or exasperation; after all, their reasons are valid to them and are therefore valid to us as their family. Involve them in the process and if they’re truly resistant don’t attempt to force your choices on them; search for a compromise and keep them engaged at every stage. Always treat them the way we would wish to be treated – with dignity and respect.

If your parent is living with a deteriorating, life-limiting condition then time will be more of a factor in arranging care and making sure that they are properly supported at home. However, it can also be a difficult, emotional process for the children to acknowledge that the parent who brought them up is ageing and needing care. If their quality of life is being affected by not being able to manage independently it is certainly time to come up with a solution that will prevent them from having the upheaval of leaving their home. Care at home is definitely a more preferable solution as they’ll remain in familiar and comforting surroundings, and if there aren’t any family members nearby it will also ensure they have vital socialisation. Some other warning signs that you should be seeking medical and healthcare advice for your loved ones include:

  • Frequent infections
  • Joint stiffness/pain
  • Mobility issues/stooped posture
  • Frequent falls
  • Confusion/disorientation
  • Constant fatigue/weakness

The subject should always be broached calmly and carefully, while reassuring your parents that you’re not suggesting they have to leave their home. Expect them to be quite indignant at first – after all, they brought you up from birth and probably still consider themselves youthful in mind and body. They may feel you’re being disrespectful and dismiss the discussion out of hand, but if that’s the case just leave it for that day and try again when you’re both feeling less frustrated. Letting them know that they have many options available to them, such as live-in and visiting care, supported living and housekeeping, may make them feel more receptive to the idea, and by chatting to Helping Hands about all of the services we offer you can all feel reassured that their home will still be their own and they won’t feel that it’s an unwelcome intrusion.

The reasons will probably be complex, but we must always remember that they’ve been the adult since before we were born. They brought us up and cared for us and now we’re telling them the roles need to be reversed. No wonder they think we’re being impertinent! Ultimately, we have to put ourselves in their shoes – how would we feel if this was our child saying these things to us? We’d probably feel just the same as they are. Remaining calm and letting them know they will remain in control of their care choices is key to a satisfactory transition.
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