Are you noticing signs that your elderly loved one is struggling to keep up? Perhaps you see dirty dishes piled in the sink or the hamper is overflowing with dirty clothes. Maybe they have lost interest in hobbies that used to excite them or are no longer meeting up with their friends to play cards. These are red flags that help is needed, but what do you do if they refuse help?
Proceed with caution
A delicate touch is needed because when a child suggests that mom or dad needs help, it can come across as offensive. So remember that they are adults with a right to autonomy. You must respect their right to make decisions for themselves and that includes the ability to say no. Always speak respectfully to an elderly parent, even if it feels as if you have become the parent.
Assess the situation
Evaluate the situation to determine if there is a safety issue. Is your parent in any danger or putting anyone else at risk? Sometimes it’s wise to pick your battles, at least temporarily, as long as there are no serious safety issues. However, it is also important to establish boundaries. resentment can develop when parents refuse any outside help but expect you to be there whenever they need you, at the drop of a hat. Not setting and respecting boundaries actually enables the very behavior that you are trying to avoid. So, decide what you are able to do and do it with love, but set boundaries don’t allow yourself to be used as a full-time, unpaid caregiver if that is not the choice that you are making for yourself.
Ask for a personal favor
You may be able to overcome resistance to accepting help by requesting it as a favor. Telling an elderly person that he or she needs help can evoke an emotional response because it’s interpreted as ”You think I’m old and helpless and can’t take care of myself!” Frame the request in terms of services that are available for people of any age. For instance, you might start with something like house cleaning. Mention that you have someone coming in to clean for you because you are so busy and share how great it is to have help or offer to hire “a driver” Who can take your loved one on more leisurely outings and shopping trips than you are able to provide.
To keep the conversation warm and flowing, you can preface it with “I know you are independent and can take care of yourself, but I worry about you, and I feel bad that I can’t do more. For my peace of mind, would you please consider in-home care (or whatever services you are suggesting? Please, for my sake.”
Get things squared away
This step is very important, especially if your loved one is experiencing a cognitive decline. Make sure all the important paperwork is done, including an advance directive, Power of Attorney, and instructions for life-sustaining treatment, if appropriate. Do this as early as possible. Make sure your parent has a financial planner and an elder law attorney if that’s justified. Get all the paperwork and legal ducks in a row. Everyone should have an advance directive, power of attorney and someone who will pay the bills if the parent loses that ability. You may also want to bring in a life care manager or get an independent assessment done. Check with your local Department of Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association for information about assessments and advice on resources that may be available to them.
Make it a family affair
Enlist the help of other family members, but first be sure that everyone is on the same page. Perhaps hold a separate family meeting before talking with your elderly loved one That way, negative emotions can be aired and conflicting opinions can be worked out without upsetting the parent or loved one you are trying to help.
Set up an introduction
Before bringing in a caregiver or other service provider, it is a good idea to arrange an introduction. Older people are often hesitant to have a “stranger” come into their home. It may help to present the service provider as someone you know and trust. Eldercare providers should understand these issues and b willing to work with you to overcome resistance.
Again, respect the autonomy of elderly loved ones who are still capable of making decisions for themselves. Make suggestions but let them make the decision. You might express concern and then back off and let it lay for a while. Continue asking open-ended questions, such as, “What would you do if you fell while alone here at night?” and perhaps they will recognize for themselves that there is a need for some assistance. Plant the seed but let them come to the answer in their own time.