How To Help Your Aging Parents Even When They Don't Want You To

July 9, 2020

If you've been trying to offer help to your aging parents but they don’t seem to want it, then you’re definitely not alone.

Researchers from the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging, Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, and Penn State found that as many as 90 percent of middle-aged adults reported their elderly parents exhibiting stubborn behavior when they tried to give advice or assistance. 

Naturally, your first reaction may be one of defense or frustration. You might think to yourself:

  • Why won’t they listen to me?
  • Don’t they see me as an adult?
  • Don’t they know that I want what’s best for them?

But that’s not why they’re refusing you at all. In fact, according to Forbes, the real reason our aging parents refuse to accept help is actually much more basic: It’s fear.

No one, no matter how old they are, wants to lose control over their life. People value their independence and don’t want it to be taken away. If something poses a potential threat, we tend to reject it, even if it’s the harsh realization that this concern is warranted.

That’s why when you’re trying to share our thoughts with our elderly parents, you need to empathize with their position. Put yourself in their shoes and see how easy it can be to misinterpret your actions as meddling or trying to take that control from them.

To change this perception and try to be as helpful as possible, here are a few strategies you’re going to want to use. 

1. Talk to Them Like Adults

If there’s one thing you can do to build or maintain a quality level of trust with your parents, it’s going to be to keep talking with them like competent adults.

Don’t be tempted to try to tell them what they “should be doing” or even reverse the parent-to-child roles on them. To your parents, you will always be their child (even as a grown adult), and suddenly trying to exert some authority over them is only going to be met with resistance.  

Instead, talk with your parents the same way you would a friend or colleague. Even if they’re starting to exhibit some signs of forgetfulness or confusion, don’t point it out directly or in a way that could be embarrassing. Talk to them about it privately and with genuine concern. Always treat them with the respect that they deserve.

Be persistent in your efforts to be a friendly presence in their lives. Accompany them when they visit the doctor or offer to help out around the house. If you’re just there to lend a hand or keep them company while they’re in the waiting room, then this will help make them more receptive to your advice later.

2. Listen to What They Have to Say

When your parents are talking, actively listen to what they’re telling you (or not telling you). Sometimes, without asking for your help, you might notice that they’re struggling with certain things:

  • Understanding a recent diagnosis
  • Trouble with their prescriptions
  • A complaint about something around the house not working right
  • A problem with a new technology like figuring how to use email or a smartphone

All these are common complaints from the elderly and great opportunities for you to step in with your assistance. At the same time, remember to ask them lots of questions that gauge their current mental state. Ask about:

  • How they’re feeling
  • What they did today
  • If they left the house to go anywhere
  • If anyone has visited them or if they’ve made any new friends

While these types of questions may seem innocent enough, from time to time the answers may reveal the need for help more than you realize. For example, a friendly visitor to the house might actually be a shady salesman looking to sell them a bogus financial product or trick them out of money. Just like the way that you look out for your children, scrutinize who it is that they talk to and beware of their true motives.

3. Give Options, Not Orders

If you do start to suspect your parents need some serious care or medical attention, never demand or try to force them. Instead, look for multiple ways that the problem could be solved and then offer these options to your parents as potential solutions.

By presenting them with options, you’re letting them maintain that level of control that they need to have. According to Gary Gilles, a licensed clinical professional counselor, “You’re giving them a voice and an invitation to be part of the solution. As they take that control, they are more likely to adapt to the changes that are being suggested because they are part of the decision-making.”

4. Be Patient

Not every piece of advice you offer to your parents is going to be accepted with open arms. They might try to shoot it down or tell you several reasons why they don’t have to do what you’re recommending.

This is when you take emotion out of the conversation and rely on the facts. Do some research by finding stories from the news or the Internet that are similar to behaviors your parents are exhibiting and talk to them openly about the consequences of not taking action.

Though they may try to resist you at first, once you put the idea int heir head, it will eventually sink in. And given enough time, they may even start to come around and see things your way.

5. Reassure Them That You're on Their Side

Even though getting through to your parents might be a struggle and they may even try to deliberately avoid certain topics, it doesn’t make what you’re doing wrong. You’re not the bad guy. Sometimes one of the hardest things you can do as an adult is to confront someone you love about a serious concern you have for their well-being.

The best thing you can do is just keep reassuring your parents why you’re doing what you’re doing. Obviously, it’s because you have the best of intentions, so remind them of that fact. Show them that you care by giving them the attention they need and the companionship they desire. Let them know that you love them, think about them all the time, and appreciate everything they’ve ever done for you.

At Pillar, we understand that being a caretaker of a loved one is not easy. To help alleviate some frustrations, we’ve developed an app to organize and store medical records so that everything can remain secure and accessible at a moment’s notice. Learn how it works.

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