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What to Do When Elderly Parent Refuses Assisted Living and Caregiving Services?

Are you stressed out with your senior loved ones skipping appointments with their doctors? This question may sound like a familiar scenario where an elderly family member will either insist they are still healthy enough to work or that they don’t need help with daily tasks, despite their struggles. According to clinical psychologist Donna Cohen, Ph.D., many young family members are having a hard time convincing their aging parents or relatives to find caregiving services. However, aging does not have to be straining and difficult for both parties. Here are some things to do when an older parent refuses assisted living and caregiving services.

How to Convince a Parent to Go to Assisted Living

  1. Talk with siblings/family first. Discuss options ahead of time and make sure you’re on the same page. This will help minimize tension and disagreements.
  2. Don’t push. Avoid making parents feel forced. This conversation may need to happen several times over the course of weeks, months, and sometimes even years.
  3. Empathize and listen. Many seniors protest assisted living out of Show your loved one that you really care about why they are resisting. Hearing them with compassion (rather than pushing an agenda) builds trust.
  4. Reframe the benefits. Many seniors see assisted living as “giving up,” but good facilities offer vibrant social communities, independence, peace of mind, and more time to enjoy life. Remind your loved one of these benefits and how they could improve their quality of life.
  5. Seize teachable moments. Is housework overwhelming? Are they lonely? Pain points can be conversation starters for how assisted living can help parents live more fully.
  6. Give them control. No parent wants to be told what to do. Instead, ask how they would recommend solving the problem. Ask about their priorities and give them choices. One family even made a flip chart to help visualize what their parents cared about most.
  7. Bring in help. Sometimes a third party can neutralize a charged situation. Consider having a trusted physician, spiritual guide, or counselor talk with your loved one.
  8. Share your feelings. Parents love their kids and don’t want to be a burden. Share how it might be affecting you in a way they can empathize with without blaming them. For example, you could say, “It’s getting harder to balance with kids,” or “We want more quality time with you.”
  9. Find friends. Are any of your parents’ friends happy in an assisted living community? Finding a place with a built-in network can be a game-changer.
  10. Take some “active” tours. Visit facilities when your loved one can see people thriving. Have lunch in the dining room or arrange for them to participate in fun classes or activities.
  11. Try an interim solution. Consider in-home help first. If your parents don’t love the idea, they may find they prefer the independence of a community.
  12. Consult an elder care lawyer. If you have to make financial or health decisions, know your legal options for legal guardianship or power of attorney.
  13. Prioritize trust and love. Preserving your relationship with your parents is the most important thing.

As you continue these discussions about assisted living or caregiving services with your parent, there are a few other essential things to keep in mind. We’ll cover them in more detail below.

Aging Is Quite Scary, Understand Them

Cohen who wrote the book “The Loss of Self: A Family Resource for the Care of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders” advised that one should try to understand a person’s fear about getting old instead of persistently demanding them to move into an assisted living shelter or availing services from caregivers. The author said that seniors who show anger or dreadful changes in their behaviors are aware of their situations. However, they don’t understand how and why they are suffering from certain bodily malfunctions, such as cognitive impairment. Due to that, they tend to believe that their loved ones, even their children, are incapable of understanding their troubles emotionally and physically.

Providing them a gentle reassurance will lessen their fears about function loss. A calm situation can prevent them from feeling guilty, frustrated, helpless, and angry. Understanding that elderly refusing care is common is important for making progress with your loved one. You don’t have to tell straight in their faces that they are disabled. Instead, show them that despite their loss of function, they are still whole and important. In this stage, empathy and validation are what they need.

In Good Times and Bad Times, Stick with Them

Yes, they have reached the peak of their lives and that makes them too proud to the point that they think they will be okay on their own. Barbara Krane who co-authored “Coping with Your Difficult Older Parent: A Guide for Stressed-Out Children” explained that how seniors stubbornly act is comparable to how adolescents struggle with their parents. There are a lot of coping mechanisms, such as yelling, walking-out, and throwing tantrums, that can be stressful for both parties. However, these should not be the reasons to give up on elderly parents refusing assisted living or caregiving services. Instead of forcing your father to stop driving, why not drive for him and just let him enjoy the ride? This way, he will realize that being dysfunctional in some aspects is not a completely bad thing.

Talk About the Future Possibilities Before a Health Crisis Hits

A family should always be open and prepared for possibilities of future health problems. Establish preparedness through early conversations about how a member sees himself in the future. Ask your parents, “Are they okay with employing a housekeeper to help them with their tasks when they get older?” “Where do they want to live when they reached their senior years?”

Mary Stehle, an expert in senior care, said that patience should be present when discussing these topics. Through repetitive talks, you can discover why your mother is too meticulous, as well as learn how a future house helper can meet her standards. Through these conversations, you can also discover why an elderly parent is refusing assisted living. It may be due to privacy, discomfort felt around strangers, hesitations surrounding spending on health care, or fear of losing freedom.

Don’t Let their Age Set Limits, Instead Give them Options

Elderly parents refuse assisted living and caregiving services because they feel like they no longer have freedom, independence, and options. Remember that giving them options will make them feel like their opinions still matter and that they are still an independent being. When setting appointments and schedules, why not let them choose their preferred date and time? If they still want to go for a walk and do their hobbies, explain to them that their caregivers will be their companions and not a medium of restriction.

Expert Advice Helps

It is undeniable that some seniors will not believe something unless the explanation comes from a professional. Cohen advised that getting help from experts, such as physicians, social workers, priests, or even ministers, can iron-out the difficulties in convincing an elderly parent who refuses assisted living and caregiving services. An expert can explain to them the benefits of therapies, such as reducing unpleasant signs of the disease. Professionals can also provide correct answers to the concerns of seniors about treatment.

Set Priorities, List Problems

Since the need for caregiving and assisted living for elderly parents is a two-way street, both parties can experience problems. To reduce these problems, write down a list of your priorities. Does your parent need weekly or monthly appointments with a doctor? Do you urgently need to hire a housekeeper? Will it be beneficial for both of you if the senior goes into an assisted living facility?

For instance, if your parent suffers from dementia, he can no longer attend to his regular chores. Therefore, hiring a housekeeper is a priority. Stehle said that it is not necessary to “explain every aspect of care the aide will provide before the relationship has formed.” This approach will prevent the senior from feeling threatened or helpless.

Love Takes Time, Take It Slow

Of course you love your parents, so you have to take everything slow once they reached their senior years. Want to take them to a doctor? How about asking the doctor to do home visits instead? Need to speak to a therapist for your parent’s cognitive impairment? Why not ask him to do the session in your parent’s favorite coffee shop?

Lower the Goal Expectations

While it may not be a permanent solution to the issue, convincing your loved one to utilize a medical alert system could offer some relief and security for both parties. By lowering the bar from a full transition to this new incorporation, it could soften their perspective on making a more substantial move later. Check out the Senior Living video below on how to convince a loved one to use a medical alert system to gain some additional perspective on how to approach a difficult topic with your loved one and learn how to deal with any objections they may have along the way.

Everyone Has Limitations

Don’t force both parties too much. At the end of the day, everyone will still have his own choices. If an elderly parent refuses assisted living and caregiving services and says that it is their final decision, it’s important to still give love and support. In case something bad happens, remember that it is nobody’s fault, and you should not feel liable nor guilty for that. And since time is precious, just make every moment count for both of you.

Reviewed By

Scott Witt

Elder Home Care Expert

Scott founded Select Home Care Portland in 2009 and has been helping seniors live their best life at home or in their local senior community ever since. As an advocate for seniors, the primary philosophy has been to listen, educate and provide… Learn More About Scott Witt

Written By

Jeff Hoyt

Editor in Chief

Since graduating from Harvard with an honors degree in Statistics, Jeff has been creating content in print, online, and on television. Much of his work has been dedicated to informing seniors on how to live better lives. As Editor-in-Chief of the personal… Learn More About Jeff Hoyt

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