6 Ways to Deal with a Senior Parent in Denial
One of life's most difficult transitions can be when an adult child becomes the caregiver for their parent. The role reversal can be tough for everyone involved. For the caregiver, it is emotionally and physically exhausting. No one wants to watch a parent’s health decline. For the proud family elder, accepting help can be awkward and uncomfortable. It’s much easier to deny that they need assistance and insist they can handle things on their own.
If you find yourself in this situation, know that you aren't alone. Researchers who explored this issue found that 77% of adult children consider their parents to be stubborn! This is a generation of older adults known for their strong work ethic. Accepting that they need help doesn't come easily.
What can you do to keep a senior parent safe while still protecting their pride and sense of independence?
It starts by being patient and trying to see things from the parent's perspective.
6 Ways to Help a Resistant Senior Parent Get Help
- Exercise patience: Unless you feel the situation is so dire that your parent’s safety is in immediate jeopardy, understand that the process of getting them to accept help won’t be a quick one. Your goal should be to set smaller targets and be pleasantly persistent in meeting them. For example, if bathing and dressing are tough for your mom and you can’t always be there to help, hire an in-home care aide. Then after a few weeks, have the aide start helping to prepare meals. These small steps can keep your parent safe while getting them more accustomed to accepting help. That can get you headed toward the ultimate goal of moving them to an assisted living community.
- Indirect conversations: Most older adults have friends who have moved to an assisted living community. Use that as a way to broach the topic. Ask how their friend is doing and how they like their new home. You might also inquire about what led their friend to make the move. If the topic seems to be going well, offer to take them to visit their friend for lunch or dinner or for a community event. Don’t try to sell them on the community, just focus on their friend instead.
- Ask about their plan for the future: Your senior loved one might have their own vision for where and how they will grow old. For some, it will be a well-thought-out plan. Other seniors deny that they will ever require help or that they won't be safe living on their own. The latter can be especially difficult. It might help to ask questions such as, "have you thought about what you will do when you can't manage stairs any longer?" or, "are you worried you will fall and not be able to get to the phone for help?" This can help to get them talking and thinking about the reality of their future.
- Stereotypes persist: It isn't uncommon for older adults to harbor outdated or incorrect ideas about senior living communities. Your loved one might be one of those people. A great way to help overcome those stereotypes is to visit a community. Encourage your parent to let you schedule a time for the two of you to tour an assisted living community together—no pressure to move in, just an agreement to visit. Ahead of time, you might want to visit a few communities to narrow down the choices to those you think are the best fit for your parent. They'll likely be surprised to see how lively and engaging today's senior living communities are.
- Watch your language: If you are frustrated and worried, you might not be as thoughtful as you'd like to be with your language. But it’s important not to put your parent on the defensive when you are trying to convince them it is time to move. For example, if you notice your parent is losing weight, approach it in a positive manner. Try saying something like this: "It looks like you've lost some weight. Are you having trouble getting to the grocery store or making meals?" That not only shows you care, but also opens up the conversation about their struggles.
- Enlist their physician's support: Despite your best efforts, your loved one might still refuse to move to assisted living. If you are fearful that their well-being is at risk, it might help to enlist the support of their primary care physician. Share your concerns ahead of time so the doctor knows to bring it up during the conversation. Seniors are often more receptive to recommendations when they come from a physician they trust.
At Allegro, our door is always open to visitors. If you are an adult child exploring options for a reluctant parent, we encourage you to set up a time to visit with one or our Senior Living Advisors. We can help answer your questions and offer some in-person guidance on how you through these challenges.