Why Elderly Parents Refuse Care

By Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA 

Elderly parents refuse care for many reasons. Care refusals happen as the result of wanting to remain in control, being unware of caregiving programs and support, having a diagnosis of dementia, and lacking insight into health issues and related concerns. Elderly parents who refuse help can present frustrating challenges for adult children who are the caregivers.

An Closed Mind Responds With “No”

How many times do we express a concern and the person to whom we’re speaking offers a suggestion? How many times does our mind immediately dismiss the suggestion rather than being curious and asking more questions? It’s human nature to prefer to vent and complain, rather than solve our own problems. There are even times when we become irritated with the person offering the suggestion when they are only trying to help.

Becoming irritated with adult children who are caregivers is often the situation with elderly parents who refuse help. Irritation happens when adult children fail to understand the perspectives and needs of elderly parents.

If this closed-minded response to suggestions exists with us in the normal course of life why do we expect the situation to be different when conversing with an elderly parent who refuses care? Regardless of our age, our response to change or suggestions depends on our level of self-esteem and willingness to accept and implement new ways of thinking and actions. Elderly parents do not want to be questioned the ability to perform activities of daily living, managing financial matters, choosing friends, the frequency of social activities, family relationships, health, weight, or exercise frequency.

How Resistance Creates Our Future

Yet it’s exactly these areas, that when we age, that become critical to maintaining independence. If we refuse to pay attention to these areas of our lives when younger, guess what? We become similar to our elderly parents who refuse care. We create a future for ourselves based on our  experience with our elderly parents that can result in frustration and struggle.

We all want choices. The ability to decide where we live. Who we allow into our lives. As we age, if we have early patterns of poor financial management, ignoring our health, and other behaviors that have a negative effect on our life, our retirement years will be challenging. Our lives are self-created and while we may want to blame others, there is no one to blame but ourselves. This idea includes how caregivers resond when elderly parents refuse care.

Chronic Disease Is Part of Aging

Chronic health issues begin when we are younger: high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol. By the time we age, if we have not been proactive to address these concerns, these diagnoses that we ignored can have a significant effect on our daily life resulting in significant heart concerns, dementia, kidney, liver or other physically debilitating concerns. In our youth and most of our adult lives, we feel invincible.

Our parents felt the same way until that unexpected event: the hip fracture, heart attack, car accident, stroke, or other life-changing event. The idea of life interrupted and becoming a caregiver never occurred to us until the reality of a parent needing care becomes a daily conversation. How many of your phones ring multiple times on the same day and it’s a parent or a loved one called to ask a question or for reassurance?

Early Care Discussions Pave the Way for Positive Family Relationships

The best way to discuss resistance to care is to have the discussion early when there are no health concerns. Unfortunately, we’re not a society that chooses to acknowledge that care will be needed when older and these discussions are absent until a need arises.

Now we are faced with having uncomfortable conversations that our aging parents or loved ones resist. It’s important to understand the foundation of the resistance to support honest conversations that arrive at solutions. It’s important that we also take this advice to heart because one day, we will be in a similar position as aging parents and loved ones.

Here are 10 Tips to Understand Why Elderly Parents Refuse Care:

  • 1 Why Elderly Parents Refuse Care: No reason or motivation to change. 

    Wearing rose-colored glasses has become. Until that “one thing” totally turns our life upside down. We lose a job, a spouse, or have a heart attack because we chose to ignore those little warning signs. We noticed that our parents seemed to be struggling but didn’t want to become involved because then we would be obligated to remain involved.

    Surprise – we are now a caregiver for a parent or loved one. Ignoring those little “nagging signs” rarely results in positive outcomes. By being attentive to the small details we are often able to prevent or avoid more significant issues.

  • 2 Why Elderly Parents Refuse Care: Failure to believe that changing circumstances requires reconsideration of daily activities and routines.

    This is similar to clients telling me, “the only way I’m leaving this house is feet first.” When something forces me to change I’ll “deal with it then.” We expect others to rescue us, many parents say, “our kids will take care of us,” without having asked the kids if they are willing or able to provide care. Change is part of life. By becoming more accepting of change rather than resisting we are better able to cope with the changes rather than relying on others to solve issues that we create. Being self-reliant supports having more choices, versus limitations, in our daily lives.

  • 3 Why Elderly Parents Refuse Care: A preference to deny or hide frailties or weaknesses. 

    For example, walking distances becomes difficult, we tire easily so we avoid activities with others that would show this frailty and as a result, we become isolated and depressed. Why? Are we overweight? Do we sit all day working or watching television? Did we ignore the doctor’s suggestion for physical therapy or knee surgery?

    How do we now address all of the negative consequences we created? While addressing frailties may be uncomfortable, the consequences of not making needed changes may present more challenges that may be more difficult to reverse. Be open-minded and embrace changes that have the potential to improve your life.

  • 4 Why Elderly Parents Refuse Care: Too much hassle, trouble, or effort to change a behavior.

    While this may be our first reaction, how many of us truly take the time to identify the consequences of “no change versus change” so that we are able to make a thoughtful decision? The more we learn to try new activities and embrace new thought patterns, the more flexible and open-minded we become. It’s these traits that will serve us well when we are older and must make changes in our lives due to changes related to aging.

  • 5 Why Elderly Parents Refuse Care: Prefer instant gratification instead of spending money on self-care or future care plans. 

    Why save for retirement when social security and Medicare will pay for my care? (Note: this is a very faulty belief.) We’d rather visit Starbucks and spend $5 on a cup of coffee every day because this makes us feel good and we like the routine. What is the benefit for us today of placing my coffee money, beer money, or cigarette money of $150 into a savings or investment account each month? The benefit may be living in your home versus a nursing home. The benefit may be having more choices, versus limited choices, about your daily life.

  • 6 Why Elderly Parents Refuse Care: A belief that no one else can possible understand or help us. 

    The solution: stop venting and complaining to others. We made our bed, we made choices that resulted in where we are today. Stop asking others to rescue us—we have to rescue ourselves. If you’re an aging parent consider the excessive demands you are making on your adult children and other family members. If you’re an adult child, grow up and stop relying on your parents to financially and emotionally support you. If you don’t want to be judged, stop judging others. Take control of your life path by investigating and evaluating information, and planning to create the life you desire.

  • 7 Why Elderly Parents Refuse Care: Fear of being seen “less than able.”

    What will people think if they see me walking with a walker or shopping at the store with a caregiver? Hmm, others may think that you are wise to hire assistance to support your independence. Or that you were wise to plan financially to be able to afford assistance. Or that you were able to buy a new car—that is if you’re not spending money that you don’t have.

    If what others think about you hinders you from making rational decisions this may be a longstanding life pattern. It may be time to see a counselor to determine why the approval of others is so important and to find ways to meet your needs without seeking the approval of others.

  • 8 Why Elderly Parents Refuse Care: Belief that we know it all – a refusal to believe someone else knows more than we do. 

    How many of us use CPAs to complete our income taxes or use financial planners to plan for retirement? Then why would we not retain the services of an aging or eldercare expert to plan and make decisions about future care for ourselves or our aging parents?You didn’t have any training to be a caregiver, didn’t think about being a caregiver, and were thrust into the role without being asked. How is that going? There is wisdom in seeking the advice of others who are experts—consulting an expert may save you time, money, and frustration.

  • 9 Why Elderly Parents Refuse Care: If we listen, we may have to take action.

    Listening to the suggestions of others has no cost, except for the opportunity you give up if you fail to at least listen. Not all advice will be relevant to your situation, there’s no need to apologize. It’s up to you to decide relevancy and it’s better to be open-minded to consider other options than to be close-minded and have options removed.

    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 and has to live in a nursing home for the rest of his or her life. That $29.99 grab bar today looks good in comparison to the $7,000 a month being paid for nursing home care. 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 Why Elderly Parents Refuse Care: Can’t see the forest through the trees – overwhelmed by health issues and care situations.

    In all life situations, we don’t know what we don’t know. We fail to ask a question that would have saved us from making an error. Sometimes we don’t know who to ask or where to turn. At other times we feel we can’t take in more information, add one more project to our list, or try something different. This is normal.

    Life is filled with overwhelming situations. Rather than struggle, seek the advice of an expert 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. Many parents expect adult children to drop everything and come to the rescue. This is no longer always a practical or realistic solution. Care options exist but only if these options are discussed early enough to support a sequential plan to address increasing care needs.

Pamela D. Wilson, MS, BS/BA, CG, CSA is a national caregiving expert, advocate, and speaker.  The 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.

©2018, 2020 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved

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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