Caring for Stubborn Elderly Parents – Stubborn or Persistent?


How many times do we hear adult children say “my parent is stubborn” or “my parent is difficult”?  How often is caring for stubborn elderly parents an  accurate assessment of the true situation?

family relationships and conflictDoes the definition of a “stubborn parent” arise because a parent may be starting to become less physically or cognitively able and adult children desire to step in and take over without consulting the parent? Many times, caring for stubborn elderly parents can be resolved by having a discussion about the issue at hand and attempting to understand both sides of the situation.

Each situation is different and depends on whether the parents require the involvement of family for support. If not the situation and the outcome may be up to the parent. If the parent does require the assistance of family it is possible that negotiations and compromise must take place especially if the care required affects the day to day life of adult children who have careers, families, and other obligations. Being independent versus being dependent on others changes the dynamics of a situation and stubbornness may become a challenge.

Caring for Stubborn Elderly Parents – Stubbornness or Persistence?

Is it possible that caring for stubborn elderly parents relates to persistence—or the quality of not giving up? How might stubbornness be viewed differently from persistence? Is your parent stubborn or persistent?

Caring for stubborn elerly parents might might be defined as stubborn parents exhibiting signs of rigidity, obstinacy, resistance, or disobedience. Persistence might be defined as not giving up, going the distance, or maintaining a positive attitude in spite of challenges. Persistence seems to be a more positive quality.

My Parent is Stubborn

Many times the aspect perceived to thoughts of my parent is stubborn arises from fear of change. When we are young change seems easier. As we age we become set it our ways and may resist change unless there is an overwhelming reason to make a change.

We often hear “I’m old and I’ve earned the right to be difficult or the right to have my way.” What is at the root of the perception of stubbornness? A desire for the status quo? Not wanting to be dependent on adult children? Not wanting to give up control?

There are times when stubborn elderly parents being persistent may be a negative. Let’s look at the example of a parent with physical weakness that refuses to use a cane or a walker and has continual falls that result in one broken bone after another. One would question the logic or the reason of not using a cane or a walker when physical harm is the result.

Stubbornness or Poor Judgment?

There are other situations when an older adult refuses to give up the car keys when car accidents have become more frequent or the individual becomes lost and is unable to find the way home. Refusals to use supports when physical weakness occurs or to stop driving when accidents have occurred are situations where stubborn or persistent indicate poor judgment.

In these situations adult children may have no choice but to intervene if the parent stubbornly resists or is unable to comprehend logic around safety concerns. Caring for stubborn elderly parents by doing the right thing can feel uncomfortable for adult children. If safety or poor judgment is a concern, adult children have a duty to protect stubborn elderly parents. 

There are less risky situations where poor judgment may not be immediately harmful but may be unwise given the long term effects of a behavior. For example, an individual with COPD who chooses to continue to smoke cigarettes, a person diagnosed with diabetes who continues toan unhealthy diet or consume alsohol, or an overweight person remains addicted to fast food. We all have the right to make poor choices that will eventually catch up with us.

Having Heart-to-Heart Discussions

Is there an antidote to being stubborn? Possibly. Avoiding a subject or a discussion is not a solution to stubborn. Attempting an honest and open discussion is the first step to take even though the person initiating the discussion—you—may be shot down on the initial attempt. Try again and again and again. Don’t give up. Caring for stubborn elderly parents is a learned skill. 

Be persistent (not stubborn) in your desire to talk about concerns in an open fashion. If possible avoid giving solutions until you are able to ask your parent for solutions. Working and being a caregiver can feel frustrating when parents dig in their heels.  If repeated attempts fail, find an objective person who has no investment in the outcome to to bounce ideas off or to give suggestions.

Be Sensitive About Caring for Stubborn Elderly Parents

Caregiving support groups and online programs can help caregivers through through situations of my parent is stubborn. In many situations there is no right or wrong answer—only trial and error to learn what works and what doesn’t work. Keep in mind and be sensitive that repeating the same mistake will not result in a different outcome.

It’s easy for us to become stuck in a rut and to not be able to see that there are other alternatives to a present situation. Try to keep an open mind. Be open to considering other solutions. You might surprise yourself and find that you might be more stubborn than your parent in your desire to compromise and to accept change that is totally out of your control.

We will all day, if we’re fortunate, live to the age of our parents. Compassion and compromise are important as well as taking the right action that is in the best interest of a parent and a situation even when the parent might disagree

©2016, 2020 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved

Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, CG, CSA is a national caregiving expert, advocate, and speaker.  Rare experience of more than 20 years as a court-appointed guardian, power of attorney, and care manager delivers unique and valuable insights. She supports family caregivers and aging adults interested in health, well-being, and caregiving. Wilson is a keynote speaker and educator for corporate human resources departments. She also provides education and programs for financial, insurance, legal, and consumer organizations. Wilson hosts The Caring Generation® radio program and is active through social media.

Her new book, The Caregiving Trap: Solutions for Life’s Unexpected Changes, is available through all major bookstores as well as on  You can follow Pamela on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In

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