ParentCare » Vol. 37

When a loved one refuses help

By Liz Foss

Seniors Helping Seniors

We all know that life can get harder in a variety of ways as people age. The old bones and joints creak a little more than they used to when you get up in the morning, and that bag of dog food you used to toss around can seem a lot heavier as time goes on. But there comes a time when not being able to do the things you used to becomes more than an inconvenience. Clearing snow and taking care of the yard and the house can be too much for people who are beginning to have health issues.

old-manAs people age, balance can be a problem, due to an illness, injury or the effects of medication. A lack of balance can make some everyday tasks downright dangerous. Reaching into high cabinets, for example, or carrying the vacuum cleaner up and down the stairs could contribute to a fall, which too often is the beginning of a downward spiral in health and independence.

Some people adapt to these changes with grace and good humor. Some grumble and curse but get some help, either from family members or from professionals. Then, there are the people who can’t or won’t admit that they need any help. There’s no question that it is a big deal to come to terms with the fact that you can’t do the things you used to do. Parents may believe that graham crackers and marshmallow fluff is a perfectly good lunch, even if their grown children are horrified.

What to do when some family members think help is needed, and others don’t? First of all, of course, is to be sure that everyone is on the same page as to what is being talked about as the need.

The adult daughter may be concerned with mom’s safety, while Mom can’t understand why and doesn’t want a “stranger” in the house. Having a conversation where the shared goal is laid out clearly can be really helpful. If there is agreement on the goal, then the means of getting there can be easier to establish. “I want you to be safe,” can be restated as “Let’s have someone stop by on Tuesday and Thursday, take you shopping, do the laundry and prepare a couple of meals.”

If there are serious concerns about someone’s safety and no agreement can be reached about getting help, sometimes a physician or someone from the local area agency on aging can be enlisted to advise the family. Hearing the same thing from the doctor may carry more weight than hearing it from the “child” who used to take orders from the parent.

If the parent is of sound mind and still does not want any help, sometimes the decision must simply be respected. If Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia is part of the picture, seek professional assistance from a doctor or geriatric care manager. Logic often will not work, and other strategies must be employed. Otherwise, a watchful loving approach is best.

Liz Foss runs Seniors Helping Seniors, a non-medical in-home care agency. Having worked as an accountant for nonprofits for many years, Foss now has her own business, which hires active seniors to help people remain in their homes for as long as possible. Seniors Helping Seniors provides services in Worcester County. For more information, visit, call (508) 885-6004 or email Foss at

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