When an Aging Parents Refuses Care


It is only natural that adult children would want to do what is best for their aging parents. After all, their parents raised them and worked hard to give them the best life possible.

In light of this fact, many adult children are taken off guard when their parents react negatively to any talk of providing them with assistance as they age. And instead of thanking their children, these parents instead seem insulted at the idea that they would need to be taken care of.

While it is natural for a son or daughter to be hurt or angry in such circumstances, it is important to see things from the perspective of their aging parent. When children suggest that their parent consider in-home care or moving to an assisted-living facility or nursing home, this represents more than just a change in routine. It means facing the fact that they are getting older and losing their ability to live independently.

In some cases, things can get so bad that it is necessary for a child to file for guardianship of an aging parent. However, legal options should always be a last resort. In an effort to avoid having to employ such extreme measures, it is important to be proactive so that things do not deteriorate to that point.

If you have an elderly parent, no matter how independent, chances are good that this parent will at some point be unable to live independently. By approaching this subject before a crisis occurs—an accident or injury, for example—things are likely to go much smoother. This is because a parent will not feel backed into a corner or forced to do something they are not prepared to do.

What follows are some suggestions on how to broach this sensitive subject in a manner which will make the conversation easier on both parent and adult child.

  1. Get outside input. When talking with your aging parent about options for care, consider including some of their close friends or even a clergy member in the conversation. This prevents your loved one from feeling as if they are being told what to do by the very children they raised!
  2. Talk to their doctor. Many older people trust their physician more than anyone else. Therefore, they are more likely to act on orders from a trusted doctor than their children.
  3. Allow them to retain some control. Instead of telling an aging parent what is going to happen, allow them to make their wishes known. Many aging adults view accepting care as relinquishing control over their lives. The more input they have, the less out-of-control they will feel.
  4. Don’t rush things. If you expect everything to be resolved in one sitting you will be sorely disappointed. Expect to have the same conversation several times and be prepared to explain things over and over. If you push too hard all at once it is likely that your parent will shut down.
  5. Be patient. “The idea of change and the actual move their home to a facility can be very stressful,” says our director at Physician’s Choice Private Duty. “Be kind and patient with your loved one. Allow them the time to come to a conclusion that is beneficial to all parties.” Further, you should avoid ultimatums or engaging in power struggles which can only damage your relationship.

Unfortunately, no matter how well-intentioned and thoughtful you are in your quest to get the proper care for your loved one, the situation will likely never be completely stress-free. You will probably always feel like your parent isn’t accepting enough help while your parent will inevitably feel like they are being forced to accept too much help.

In the end, as hard as it may be to accept, if your aging parent is not endangering themselves or others, you cannot (short of a court order) force them to do what you believe is best for them. It is important that you understand that there are limits on what you can do for them. As long as you have offered the best care that you can provide and have made every effort to convince them it is in their best interest to accept it, then that is all you can do.