What To Do When Seniors Refuse Help

How should caregivers respond when older adults won’t accept advice or assistance?

Ask any caregiver about the most challenging aspects of assisting older adults, and you’ll likely hear examples of their frustration when help is offered but refused.

There’s no doubt that many senior adults need varying levels of assistance with daily activities, says a recent study from the National Center for Health Statistics. Approximately one in five seniors, age 75 and older, need help with day-to-day tasks such as shopping, doing household chores, handling finances, and managing medications, according to the study.

In a study published in The Journals of Gerontology found that more than three-fourths of grown children think their parents are stubborn about taking advice or accepting help with everyday activities.

For caregivers and senior adults, these conflicts—which may escalate over time—can result in a standoff in which the older adult will turn away from any advice, suggestions, or offers of help from caregivers.

What strategies can caregivers use to encourage seniors to accept assistance, especially when it’s obviously needed?

Understand their motivations. Try to discover why your older adult is resisting. Does he or she resent the changed power dynamic (you’re the “parent” and he is the “child)? Is she denying the realities of growing older and losing independence? Is there depression or confusion? Try to ascertain what the older adult is afraid of. Listen to his or her concerns without judgment.

Choose your battles. How important is the matter? Is it a critical health or safety issue? Or it is something that’s irritating you—but not, in the overall scheme, consequential?

Accept the situation. If seniors are not endangering themselves or others, step aside and let them to make their own choices. They will then experience the consequences of their behavior—and may be more inclined to allow your assistance in the future. They may even ask for help!

Ask them to help you. Explain to seniors how much it would mean to you if they would allow you to be useful to them. Aging adults proclaim that they don’t want to be a burden, which is understandable—but let them know that you want to feel needed. Assure them that their letting you give back to them would be a gift to you.