How to Help

Helping an Older Person Who Denies Needing Help

"I have talked to Dad over and over about the condition of the house. It's a mess! With his bad back and arthritis, he can't keep it clean. We could hire someone to help, but he won't hear of it. He tells me the house if just fine!"

Does this sound familiar? If your older relative refuses to admit that he is having difficulties, or rejects offers to help, it is important to understand the reasons why:
  • It is hard to accept the changes that accompany aging, such as vision loss, difficulty walking, or slower reflexes.
  • Many older people are determined to remain independent.The suggestion that they need help may bring concerns about dependence on others.
  • Like all of us, older people are concerned about "appearances." They may resist wearing a hearing aid or using a cane for that reason. Older people may not want to have their neighbors see someone coming into their home to help with household tasks.
  • They may fear depleting their savings. A person who has been frugal all his life may resist hiring someone to clean, cook or provide personal care.
  • They do not see the issue as a problem. A messy house, for example, may be a great concern to you but not to your elderly father.

Helpful tips

By understanding these reasons, you may find a way to discuss the "resistant" person's need for assistance. Remember the following:
  • Timing is everything. Be sure to plan your discussion for a time when you are both calm and relaxed.
  • Be honest about your concerns.Try not to be critical or judgmental. It helps to use "I" statements ("I'm very worried that you are eating so little; I'm afraid you might be getting sick.")
  • First things first. Discuss the most important issues; try to let the little ones go.
  • Listen respectfully to your relative's point of view.
  • Suggest small steps. A series of small changes may be more acceptable than a sudden, dramatic change.
  • Be ready to discuss the same issue a number of times before seeing progress. Changes take time.
  • Enlist others to talk with your relative if you do not succeed. Often an outside person, such as a doctor or clergy person, can be influential.
From Caregiving From Near and Far, with permissions from Baltimore County Department of Aging.