How To Handle A Stubborn Aging Parent
Being in the consulting business about aging and working with families is like being the Complaint Department for those who have aging loved ones. Frequently heard complaint at AgingParents.com: my mom won’t listen, and won’t get help and she can barely take care of herself. What am I supposed to do?
Around times when families often gather, like holidays, birthdays and such, there is pain in seeing an aging parent in an unsafe situation or condition. It’s in your face. You can’t ignore it, and yet you get stubborn resistance when you try to talk a parent into getting help. The conversation might sound something like this:
You: “Mom/Dad, I think you ought to get someone in here to help you. I can see you’re having a lot of trouble walking and I think you should get someone a few days a week.
“Parent: “I don’t need that. I’m fine. I can take care of myself. I hold onto the furniture and besides, I’m very careful”.
You: ” But you’re going to fall! This isn’t safe. Why won’t you listen to me?? You’re being difficult as usual. You’re so stubborn!”
As anyone who has had a conversation like this knows, using a logical approach and pointing out what’s wrong with your parent gets you nowhere. Here’s an alternative way to approach the subject of your aging loved one losing independence. I’ve been through this myself with my 94 year old mother in law, Alice,who finally came around. It took quite a lot of patient persuasion to get her to change. She could get a prize for stubbornness.
You: “Mom/ Dad, I’m worried. I know you never would want to be a burden to me. And if you fell and got hurt it would be a burden. I might not be able to get here. I know of a neighbor who fell and was on the floor for three days because no one knew she had fallen. I need you to help me be less anxious about your walking. Would you consider a way to do that?”
Notice that the statement you start with is about YOU the adult child. You describe it as your problem, not theirs. You talk about something most parents don’t ever want, which is to be a burden to their kids. You ask them to help you and ease your worry. If they agree to consider something, that is when you suggest the help you had in mind. You describe what would make you feel better, like hiring a worker to assist with bathing or grocery shopping, etc. Acknowledge that you still want your parent to be in complete control over the decision about hiring anyone. Offer to help research the best places to find a helper and the prices. You can also offer to help with the interviewing process.
It’s sensible to do your research before the subject is introduced so you have information about the problem you want to solve before you bring this up. That way, you’re prepared to offer a resource immediately before your aging parent has a change of heart and you lose momentum. And you can help your aging parent be a good consumer and hire safely.
There is no doubt that many aging family members do not want to accept losing any independence even when everyone around them knows they are, in fact, no longer safe totally on their own. It’s about fear, pride, embarrassment and other emotions. That’s why our reasonable, logical explanations of what we want them to do fall on deaf ears. There is nothing reasonable about being afraid of having to depend on others and that is exactly why you get stubborn refusal. Often, though, the right approach makes all the difference in the response. Bringing up the subject again if you get resistance the first time is worth it. Deep inside, your aging parent probably knows she’s not safe by herself all the time. No matter how hard it may be, do keep asking. Relatively few seniors are willing to face loss of independence without some gentle persuasion from those who care most about them.
And overheard from Alice, after finally accepting that she really did need help: “I’m doing this because I didn’t want to become a burden to my children.”