Why Elderly Parents Refuse Care: Insights for Caregivers

Why Elderly Parents Refuse Care and What Caregivers Can Learn About Their Refusals to Seek Support

Elderly parents refuse care for many reasons. Care refusals happen as the result of a parent’s desire to remain in control, being unaware of caregiver programs and support, having a diagnosis of dementia, or lacking insight into health issues and related concerns.

Elderly parents who refuse help can present frustrating challenges for adult children who are the caregivers. Many similarities exist for elderly parents and adult children caregivers who refuse help when experiencing exhaustion and burnout.  Learn 10 reasons why aging parents and caregivers refuse help and what you can do to establish positive relationships and support systems.

Caregiving Refusals: What The Elderly and Their Caregivers Have in Common

The First Response To Offers of Help Is Usually “No”

How many times is a concern expressed and the response is to offer opinions or suggestions? How many times are suggestions immediately dismissed instead of being curious and asking more questions?

It’s human nature to want to be right, to vent, or to complain, rather than take responsibility to solve problems. There are even times when irritation is the response to others offering suggestions or assistance.

Parents becoming irritated with adult children who offer support. Irritation occurs when adult children caregivers fail to ask or attempt to understand the perspectives and desires of elderly parents. If a  closed-minded response to suggestions or help exists in the normal course of life why does anyone expect the discussion to be different with an elderly parent who refuses care?

Regardless of age, a response to change or suggestions depends on the level of self-esteem, confidence, and willingness to adapt and implement new ways of thinking and actions. Elderly parents may shut down when questioned about the ability to perform activities of daily living, manage financial matters, choose friends, participate in social activities, or manage health.

How Resistance Creates a Close Minded Future

It’s these areas that with age become critical to maintaining independence. When adults refuse to pay attention to health and well-being the effects in later life may be ongoing health problems and physical disability. Caregivers who are inattentive to these areas even when caring for elderly parents may eventually become a person who needs care. Adult children who approach caregiving from a collaborative perspective with elderly parents can reduce feelings of frustration and struggle.

All adults want choices and to be in control of life. For example, the ability to decide where to live, people we allow into life. With age, when early patterns of poor financial management, ignoring health, and other behaviors have a negative effect on our life, retirement years may be increasingly challenging.

Resistance to learning and support from others can become ingrained habits that result in elderly parents refusing care and the caregiver experiencing ongoing challenges attempting to establish positive family relationships with a parent.

Being close-minded removes opportunities for improved family and friend relationships, better health, and increased social contact. When health problems make day to life more challenging, isolation can occur along with an increase in other chronic diseases that can become disabling.

Chronic Disease Effects Life Quality

Chronic health issues that begin in middle age include high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol. If no action is taken to address these concerns, diagnoses that are ignored pose significant long-term effects on daily life. Diagnoses like heart conditions, dementia, kidney, liver or, other physically debilitating concerns can become part of life.

Parents go on with life until an unexpected event like a hip fracture, heart attack, car accident, stroke, or another life-changing event occurs. The idea of life interrupted and needing care or becoming a caregiver rarely occurs prior to a parent needing care.

Early Care Discussions Pave the Way for Positive Family Relationships

The best way to discuss elderly parents who refuse care is to have the discussion early before health concerns exist. When discussions are delayed, parents and adult children may have uncomfortable conversations about resistance and planning for care.

By asking questions, listening, and attempting to understand the foundation of parent’s resistance,  adult children can establish more trusting relationships. By gaining insights into why elderly parents refuse care, adult children who are caregivers may be able to learn the importance of accepting care themselves.

10 Tips to Understanding Why Elderly Parents and Their Caregivers Refuse Care

1 – No reason or motivation to change

Until that “one thing” totally turns life upside down an elderly parent may continue to refuse support. The same situation happens for caregivers who continue to be helpful and experience burnout.

Caregivers and aging parents lose a job, a spouse, or have a heart attack by choosing to ignore little warning signs. Parents may be struggling. Caregivers may be hesitant to become involved or may have acted so aggressively in trying to take control of a parent’s life.

Without a reason or motivation to change elderly parents and caregivers can engage in co-dependent relationships where both lose their individual identities. Adult children feel like they give up their lives in response to parents who come to expect more and more without giving back or reciprocating in any way for the support offered.

2  – Failure to believe that changing circumstances require reconsideration of daily activities and routines

This statement becomes more accurate when parents say “the only way I’m leaving this house is feet first.” When something forces me to change I’ll “deal with it then.”

Adult children through their helpful behaviors can lead to the expectation that elderly parents will say “our kids will take care of us.” Changes that are related to the aging body are an inevitable part of life.

By becoming accepting of change rather than resisting and learning to adapt elderly parents and caregivers can move forward together to solve issues that were self-created. The skills of adaptability can support self-reliance that can support having more choices about how to live day to day in later years. .

3 – The desire to deny or hide frailties or weaknesses

For example, when walking distances becomes difficult, older adults may avoid this type of activity for fear that others will notice physical frailty. Avoiding direct action to address physical weakness, health issues, or poor family relationships can result in isolation and depression for elderly parents and their caregivers.

What steps can be taken to identify and create a plan to address these concerns? What are the short and long-term consequences of doing nothing? Until elderly parents and caregivers devote time to asking and responding to these questions, the desire to do nothing may continue and result in greater frailties, illness, and weakness.

4 – Too much hassle, trouble, or effort to change a behavior

While no may be the first reaction to offers of help and suggestions even by family caregivers, the way that elderly parents who refuse care make time to identify the consequences of “no change versus change” to make a thoughtful decision? Attempts to be open-minded, attempt new activities or embrace new thought patterns can move situations forward to support beneficial changes.

5  – A preference for instant gratification instead of spending money on self-care or future care plans can complicate situations where eldelry parents refuse care

Why save for retirement when social security and Medicare will pay for my care? (Note: this is a very faulty belief.) Consumers are addicted to visiting Starbucks to spend $5 on a calorie-filled cup of coffee every day because of the immediate feel-good response.

What is the long-term benefit of placing coffee money, beer money, or cigarette money into a savings or investment account each month? The benefit may be living in your home versus a nursing home when you are elderly and need care. The benefit of having financial resources to pay for care can be may be having more choices about how you or an elderly parent live your life.

6  – The belief that no one else understands

Caregivers who are stressed believe that no one in the family understands their day-to-day existence. Elderly parents can feel the same.

The solution? Stop venting and complaining to others. Accept the choices made and the consequences. Stop expecting others to rescue, instead rescue and help yourself.

If you are an elderly parent refusing care, consider the effects of your refusals on your children. Ask if you are making excessive demands on adult children and other family members. If you are the adult child caregiver, seek education and support.

If you don’t want to be judged, stop judging others in the family who choose not to be the caregiver and who go on with their lives, careers, and families. They may understand more than you think which is why they took a different path. Take control of your life and your path by investigating and evaluating information, and planning to create the life you desire.

7 – Fear of being seen “less than able”

What will people think if they see an older adult walking with a walker or shopping at the store with a caregiver? Hmm, perhaps others will think you wise to hire assistance to support your independence. Or that you were wise to plan financially to be able to afford assistance. Worrying about what others think, especially if you are a child who no longer wants to be a caregiver can keep you trapped in an unhealthy caregiving relationship.

If what others think about you hinders you from making rational decisions this may be a longstanding life pattern. It may be time to ask why you seek or need the approval of others. How can you regain your identity and find ways to meet your needs without seeking the approval of others.

8 – The belief that we know it all – a refusal to believe someone else knows more than we do 

How many individuals hire CPAs to complete income taxes or use the wisdom and experience of a financial planner to save for retirement? Adults and their caregivers who do not retain the services of eldercare consultants can face ongoing stress and unnecessary challenges.

There is no training to be a caregiver, and less experience to realize what happens as the body ages. Wisdom exists in seeking the advice of experts. Experts can may save you time, money, and frustration.

9 – If you ask for help you may be expected to act 

Listening to the suggestions of others has no cost, except for the opportunity of refusing to listen. Not all advice may be relevant to your situation but not seeking advice can result in more problems. Seek information, ask for help. Decide how or if the information is relevant to your situation. Be open-minded so that you have more options instead of giving up options and facing regrets later.

An example of this is a parent who refused to install a grab bar in the shower. The parent falls and breaks a hip, and then is unable to return home. Because of physical needs living in a nursing home for the remainder of live is the only option.

How might that $29.99 grab bar look in comparison to paying $9,000 a month for nursing home care and depleting all of your financial assets to be accepted into the Medicaid program. Being open-minded and considering options is wise, not foolish. Preventative actions that may seem costly today have the potential of avoiding costly care in the future.

10   Feeling overwhelmed by health issues and care situations

In all life situations, knowledge and wisdom gaps exist. There is no way to know what one doesn’t know.

Failing to ask questions can save you from making an error. While there are times when the elderly and their caregivers become overwhelmed and unable to take in more information, this may be exactly when to press forward.

Life is filled with overwhelming situations. Rather than struggle, seek the advice of experts in any field who can provide information and education to allow you to focus on solving the issue at hand rather than continuing to struggle without making positive progress.

By understanding why elderly parents refuse care, families may be better able to have honest discussions to solve reliance on family caregivers being the only option. Caregivers can also become more open to seeking education and caregiver support.

Elderly parents can expect adult children to drop everything and come to the rescue after years of refusing care. Being close-minded to the need for care or support is not a practical or realistic mindset. Options for care and support exist to support a sequential plan to address increasing care needs.

©2018, 2020, 2021 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved. All articles by Pamela D Wilson

Looking For More Help Managing Care for Yourself or Elderly Parents? You’ll Find What You Are Looking For in The Caring Generation®  Podcast Called What to Do When Elderly Parents Refuse Help.

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