Watching our loved ones age is not easy. We see them begin to struggle with normal activities such as gardening or cooking. You know they need help, yet when you offer suggestions, they refuse and even become agitated. This is common, most likely your parents realize they need help, but the thought of help may frustrate or even anger them. Why?
Here are a few suggestions to try when an aging parent is resistant to help.
1. Understand It From Their Perspective
Aging is difficult in many different aspects.
Your parents may be struggling as their societal role has changed. They may no longer work full time and are trying to find purpose in their retirement years. Their body might not be as strong before, making it harder to engage in activities that they have done their entire adulthood.
These struggles and new discoveries are hard to admit to themselves and especially to their family. It is important to understand that aging is a sensitive subject and family members should do their best to understand the perspective that your parents are going through.
Start by asking your parents about the pain-point you found. The goal of this is for you to see if they can identify the same pain-point as you and their perspective on the pain point. You might ask something like this, “Mom, I noticed that there are dishes piling up in the sink. The house is usually really clean, what’s going on?”.
Then clearly explain what you observed and how it may pose a risk or hazard in the future. Respond with empathy and patience so they understand that your goal is to help them.
It is important that you do not sound patronizing. Talking down to older adults is demeaning and they should be treated with respect.
2. Always Be Supportive
When aging parents turn down help, it can be frustrating. You want them to live comfortably and safely, but they don’t seem to understand. Older adults who are in denial of their struggles can be stubborn and confrontational.
Being patient and empathetic can avoid a heated argument. Recognize that aging and the decreasing ability to function is a major life change for your parents and it may take some time for them to adjust.
You can give them a peek into the advantages of assistance. Help your father order his groceries online, instead of having him drive to the store, spend a lot of time walking around, carrying the groceries to the car.
Have them shift their focus from the negatives of their physical challenges to the positives of having more time to enjoy life.
3. Talk About the Future
When older adults struggle with daily tasks, they focus on one day at a time. It may be hard for them to think about future plans when they are concerned about the present.
Find a good time and casually ask them about their plans and find out how they envision their future. Ask them where they might see themselves in the next few years. Had they considered transitioning to an assisted living community or set on staying at home. This allows you to have more foresight about their long-term plan, but also gently reminds your parents that there are living options that allow them to be mostly independent.
If you find it awkward to bring up such an uncomfortable topic, you can reference friends or other family members that have gotten similar help. Ask your parents what they think of that kind of help and shift the conversation towards if your parent had ever considered getting the same help for themself. Then lay your case.
Be patient, but not complacent. The sooner you talk to your parents about what you notice, you can get them the help they need and prevent an accident from occurring.