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How can we help someone in need who doesn’t want any help? How do you allow your parent to accept help graciously, and preserve their pride and dignity? How do I deal with a difficult parent?

These are some of the most often asked questions from well-meaning family caregivers. If you feel trapped in a power struggle, try not to take it personally.

Understanding parents' resistance to help

Your aging parent may resist or refuse help for VALID REASONS, such as:

  • Habit. Your parent(s) could decline your outstretched hand out of habit. They’ve always fended for themselves, so why stop now?
  • Pride. Asking for help may signal their physical or mental decline. Asking one's children for help is a stronger signal of decline, to some people.
  • Privacy. Is your aging loved one a private person by nature? Talking about one’s own health can be very personal and seniors may choose not to share.
  • Cost. Your mother or father may feel the the expense unnecessary, or burdensome.

7 Ideas to Allow Your Parent to Accept Help

Understanding and accepting parental resistance is a good start. If you expect a battle, try these ideas to lead to a peaceful truce. These tips change can shift the conversation from "giving help" to "accepting help."

1. Let the person achieve something on their own.

Even tying shoelaces can be tricky. Limited vision, reduced hand-eye coordination and stiff joints can make the routine difficult. If several attempts are unsuccessful, say something like, “I’ll get those laces tied for you”.

2. Reframe questions to statements.

In the previous example, if you asked the question “Can I tie your shoelaces for you?” you may well hear “No.” Letting the person try, and then "pitching in" may be more productive. You could also replace lace-up shoes with Velcro closure shoes. These are easier to tighten and release. Again, don’t ask if you can replace a senior’s shoes. Confirm the shoe size and get a new pair.

3. Approach your parent with a united front.

My two sisters and I used this tactic when we decided it was high time for Mom and Dad to stop driving. While it was challenging to talk to our parents about driving, we were successful. There were three of us us saying the same thing and echoing each other’s words. We explained that we worried about them both if they were behind the wheel. Mom and Dad could not argue our concern and agreed.

4. Provide viable options when requesting anything.

With my own parent's driving, an alternative was for a family member to drive them where they need to go. Our parents could also use a seniors' driving service, such as GoGoGrandparent, call a taxicab, or catch public transit.

5. Go slow and start early.

Accept the fact that some changes may be a long time coming. Start with small offers of help and grow from there; chances are better that you will be successful. The earlier you begin these conversations, the better.

6. Take your time with anything new.

Book one day of home care assistance first as an experiment rather than five days. By offering less, it’s harder for someone to refuse. This can get your foot in the door and you can work up (and add more) from there.

7. Involve a doctor.

If the resistance remains too much, call for back-up! Parents may fight tooth and nail against their adult children. These same seniors are often open to a doctor’s recommendations. If you’re having problems convincing Mom and/or Dad to accept help, contact their doctor. Book an appointment for Mom or Dad to see the doctor under any pretense. Let the doctor discuss those awkward topics, instead of you.

Our editor also recommends:

5 Solutions to Overcoming Resistance to Care

How to Tackle Difficult Conversations Around Care

About the Author(s)

As a former co-caregiver, Rick Lauber helped and supported his own aging parents. His mother had Parkinson's and Leukemia and his father had Alzheimer's. Rick learned that caregiving is challenging and used writing to personally cope.

His stories became two books, Caregiver's Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver's Guide.

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