If Your Aging Parent Refuses Help, You’re Not Alone

It’s one of the most challenging aspects of caring for aging parents: they refuse your help when they actually need it. You can see that your mother is no longer able to manage cooking safely, but she adamantly denies it. Or your father is a danger behind the wheel, but refuses to give up the car keys. Or . . . fill in the blanks.

Resistance may be rooted in a myriad of issues—from deeply ingrained parent/adult-child power struggles or feared loss of independence, to dementia or other illnesses that compromise your parent’s judgment.

Many Aging Parents Resist or Refuse Help from Adult Children

If you’ve been struggling with this issue, it may give you some comfort to know that you’re not alone. A recent survey of elder care experts by the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM) found that aging parents often resist or refuse needed help from their adult children.

According to the November 2014 survey, resistance to getting needed medical care is the easiest issue to overcome, while decisions about whether a parent should continue driving or get needed home care and help with household chores are the most common trouble spots.

The findings are significant in light of new research that nearly half of all 18 million Americans older than 65 need some assistance with routine daily activities, and about two-thirds of those get some help—mostly from family and friends. But nearly one in every six seniors reported one or more “adverse consequence,” such as inability to go places or errors in medication, when their needs were not met because they lacked adequate help.

Resistance to Help Depends on What’s Involved

Here are highlights of the NAPGCM survey of 335 geriatric care managers polled from November 7-11, 2014:

  • 80 percent of respondents report regularly encountering cases where seniors are resisting needed help or declining assistance from their children or loved ones.
  • The three types of help that care managers most often find seniors resisting or declining: decisions about whether to continue driving (cited by 67 percent of those surveyed), getting needed home health care (62 percent) and assistance with household chores such as cooking, shopping and cleaning (60 percent). Others cited the difficult issue of moving to a nursing home or assisted living facility.
  • The two types of assistance that aging parents fight the most: help making a decision about whether to continue driving (cited by 73 percent of respondents) and help managing their finances (60 percent).
  • On the flip side, 73 percent of care managers said it is easiest to overcome an aging parent’s resistance to getting needed medical care, and 65 percent cited help with household chores. Only 8 percent said that resistance to help with driving decisions was easiest to overcome.

Geriatric Care Managers responding to the NAPGCM poll shared more than 150 cases of resistance to help encountered in their practices. Typical of the stories:

The family of a man who had become a road risk took away his keys. “Sadly, several weeks later, he stole a car in his community and got into an accident after driving the car less than 1,000 feet.”

While such resistance may be challenging to overcome, especially in the case of the determined driver, professional geriatric care managers can provide helpful mediation when an aging parent needs to come to terms with loss of independence, and adult children are at a loss for how to help.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified geriatric care manager. Drawing on more than 30 years of professional experience in geriatric care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsGCM.

The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM) was formed in 1985 to advance dignified care for older adults and their families. Geriatric Care Managers are professionals who have extensive training and experience working with older people, people with disabilities and families who need assistance with caregiving issues. They assist older adults who wish to remain in their homes, or can help families in the search for a suitable nursing home placement or extended care if the need occurs.

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