Overcoming Your Senior's Resistance to Accepting Care

It’s a story we hear often: Visiting an elderly parent or grandparent, you discover that a fire started in the kitchen. Or, that the medicine regimen hasn’t been followed. Or, worst of all, you hear about a fall, after the fact.

So, with the best of intentions, you spring into action in an effort to secure care for your loved one. You’re in control, or so you think. Then you hit the brick wall.

Don’t be surprised by your loved one’s stubborn resistance to change. Fiercely independent, many seniors flatly declare, "I don't need help.” All the hours of calls and coordination count for nothing in the face of their refusal to do what you think is best for them.

Don’t fight it. Instead, take a deep breath and move the discussion from a test of wills to a less emotional, highly respectful partnership model.

We call this partnership approach “turning resistance into assistance.” Like any successful partnership, it requires respect, empathy and honesty.

We recommend a commonsense, four-step approach:

1. Take the time to really understand the source of the resistance. Reassure your loved one that you will always respect their final decisions and never take away control. (The exception here is dementia. Consult a physician.) Sometimes it just helps for them to hear their concerns acknowledged.

2. Explain your intentions and your goals. Make it clear that you want the same thing, to keep them independent, safely living at home and in control. Share with them that you feel they are deserving of help after years of doing so much for others, and that you seek peace of mind for them and everyone else in the family.

3. Research your options and bring in outside help. Continue to listen for clues to the source of any resistance. For example, if your loved one resists the idea of a “caregiver,” perhaps it’s best to call it a “personal helper.” Allow caregiving professionals to guide you in this process.

4. Start slow, be patient, and take it one step at a time. At Good Company Senior Care, we offer prospective clients 4-, 8- and 12-hour Gift of Care Certificates with no contract or obligation. Sometimes that’s all it takes for a senior to see the positive results of accepting help.

Losing control is frightening for seniors. It may sound counterintuitive at first, but the earlier a senior accepts professional help, the longer they actually preserve their independence.

Jack C. Merrick is the co-owner and co-executive director of Good Company Senior Care, an independent, in-home caregiver service with offices in Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties.