“My father is so stubborn! He needs more care than he lets on, but he won’t let new caregivers do their jobs to keep him clean and fed. What can adult children do when seniors refuse help?” — Eva from Peachtree Corners



I can almost hear your frustration, but I assure you that you are not alone. As challenging as it is to experience a shift in roles from being your parent’s child to helping care for your parent, being a caregiver when seniors refuse help seems impossible.

As seniors grapple with declining physical or mental health, they will need assistance at some point as they age. This need is even more evident when they have dementia and can no longer take care of their hygiene, finances, or household chores. Why do some seniors seem so resistant to caregiving? Let’s look closer at the reasons behind the struggle and how you can overcome it.

Beyond Independence

Not all seniors who refuse the help of an adult child or caregiver realize the position they put their family in. Sometimes, it all boils down to wanting to maintain a sense of independence, even if that independence is no longer realistic. Few adults willingly relinquish their control or freedom without pushing back.

Add to that the stigma of aging. Getting older does not get the respect or compassion it deserves, and seniors are a generation that may equate aging with weakness rather than wisdom. Consider how being told what to do by your child would feel, and you may get more of an understanding of why your loved one doesn’t want to cooperate.

Towards Acceptance

You may need to come to terms with the fact that your aging parent does not want to oblige with your assessments. Every step away from independence, such as ceasing to drive, pay bills, cook, or care for a pet, is a loss for seniors, and they need time to grieve those losses.

It helps to remember that as much as we think of the golden years as a second childhood, older people are still adults worthy of respect and dignity. Depending on your loved one’s ability, you may want to start with small changes or give choices so they can voice an opinion or be part of the decision-making.

Take time to evaluate the situation to see what your senior can still do without assistance and where they need the most help. Address those immediate needs first, and give choices for some of the other issues that make sense for your loved one.

However, when offering these choices, frame them in such a way that still meets your loved one’s needs. For example, if the goal is for your senior to shower, suggest it before or after a meal. Don’t let the choice be about the showering itself.

Not every change is worth a disagreement, so you may want to pick your battles. For instance, if your senior doesn’t like you in the exam room with a doctor, see if you can set up a time to discuss the appointment or treatment plan with the physician if you have a medical power of attorney.

Try to find some middle ground; perhaps a cocktail or dessert once a week is better than arguing over a daily beer or donut. Reframe the conversation about your senior’s safety or how their refusal of aid impacts you or your family. Some seniors are more likely to cooperate if they understand how their stubbornness affects their grandchildren or how often people come to visit them.

Before Surrender

Sometimes, despite your best intentions, your loved one maintains that dogged refusal for assistance. What can you do in that case?

If your senior has dementia and you cannot reason or discuss the situation with him or her, you may want to consider filing for guardianship. However, before taking that legal avenue, try to involve the support of an Aging Life Care™ Manager who can advocate for your senior’s interests professionally and objectively. Some seniors are more likely to cooperate with an “expert” instead of their adult children.

Remember not to blame yourself when seniors refuse help. Make sure to set boundaries with your loved one to protect your own mental health and ease some of your aggravation. Try to stay positive, and keep in mind that when you have a caregiver or care manager to carry the load, you and your loved one can return to a loving relationship without the constant fighting over any loss of independence.

Good luck!


1 reply
  1. Linda Milan
    Linda Milan says:

    Thank you for this very informative article which helps me understand the importance of maintaining a good relationship towrds erderly people and also to have a good relationship to them. I also read a related article to this at “seniorlivingexperts.com”.


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