How to Talk to Your Elderly Parent About Needing Help

It’s a role reversal we’re never truly quite ready for: You’re now responsible for the parent who raised you.

Your loved one may need help getting dressed. The person who taught you how to drive is now asking you to drive her to an appointment. You are grocery shopping for more people than just your kids. Did you remember to remind dad to take his medication?

While this may be a reality, it’s still a very difficult and a sensitive subject for daughters and sons to face. Your aging parent may become fearful and quickly dismiss the idea of assistance.

Avoiding the talk will be worse on your long-term relationship and the care needed.

Avoid the Risks

It’s important to have the conversation for a few reasons, including that becoming the sole caregiver puts you and your loved one at risk.

“Most caregivers are ill-prepared for their role and provide care with little or no support; yet more than one-third of caregivers continue to provide intense care to others while suffering from poor health themselves,” according to the National Center on Caregiving.

Without reliable support, a family caregiver may suffer pain, depression, and ultimately burnout. And a burned-out caregiver can have unintended consequences for your loved one, who sadly won’t get the quality of care they need.

As you assume the role of a full-time family caregiver, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain your existing relationship with your loved one. You're now busy cleaning the dishes or mowing the lawn, instead of visiting with your Mom or Dad.

So having a candid conversation about help early on is vital.

How to Broach the Conversation

The talk with your elderly parent about hiring a home care professional can be uncomfortable. Parents may not realize they need assistance. Or they may perceive home care as a threat to their independence.

The simplest way to address the situation is to acknowledge his or her concern and provide reassurance. Your goal is to help your loved one maintain his or her own independence and live safely, comfortably and happily in his or her own home.

The way to clear up any misconceptions is to develop an ongoing, casual dialogue.

Be patient and persistent. Recruit other stakeholders if needed. A trusted spouse, doctor, or family attorney may be helpful in these conversations. Hold regular discussions together. Emphasize your desire to improve your loved one’s well-being and maintain his or her independence. Don’t try to solve everything in one conversation.

Below are sample conversation starters and strategies to introduce home care services to your loved one. Each scenario is a catalyst to take action and start talking. Prior to talking, prepare and arrange with a reliable friend or your spouse to take part in the plan. 

SCENARIO: Your loved one mentions plans to drive to the grocery store. He's shown signs of unsafe driving (getting lost or confused or unexplained dents on the car). Coordinate with a trusted neighbor, friend or spouse to serve as a driver for one trip.

SAY: I see you're planning to go to the grocery store.  I think it would be a great idea to ride with [the neighbor/friend/spouse] next time or even hire a professional who can take you where you need to go. You could tell her exactly where you want to go and she'll get you there. You'd be in control. 

SCENARIO: You noticed your mom or dad isn’t eating. 

SAY: I don’t have the time to stay and cook tonight, but [neighbor/friend/spouse] loves to cook and said she would love to cook with you tomorrow night, and she won’t have to leave early. Then you won’t have to worry about making dinner, and the family will feel good knowing someone's with you to help you out in the kitchen. You can tell them what you'd like to eat, and you’ll be in total control. Let's at least try it and talk about it afterward to see if it’s an arrangement you’d like.

SCENARIO: Your loved one forgets to take his/her medicine repeatedly. (Alert the doctor first.)

SAY: I’m worried that you forgot to take your medicine again. I spoke with your doctor and he's especially concerned about missing doses. He suggested we find a way prevent it from happening. I thought a professional caregiver would be really helpful. Let's at least give it a try and see how you like it. Then we can talk about it and see if it’s something you want going forward.

SCENARIO: Your elderly loved one is struggling to get dressed, whether it’s a fall or a misbuttoned shirt. You’ve realized they need help in the bedroom to get dressed.

SAY: I’ve noticed you’re wearing the same clothes again. What if we got you a helper for the mornings? Someone who can stop by and help get you ready for the day? She could even do a load of laundry or two, that's completely on your terms. Think of how nice it’ll be knowing there’s one less thing you have to do. Mind if we give this a try?

SCENARIO: You notice a high pile of dishes in the kitchen sink.

SAY: I know you care about keeping your place clean and tidy. But your dishes have piled up again and the kitchen's getting dirty. I’ll help you get those done, but what if we explored getting someone in here to keep the dishes done and the place clean? We’d love to take that off your plate and then everyone can feel good knowing your house is clean and the way you like it. Let’s at least give it a try and go from there.

Just Getting Care into the Door

Initial rejection and reluctance are common. Remember, this is moving from independence to dependence, and it's an uncomfortable shift that'll naturally be met with resistance. But the most important thing to remember here is that the situation will not reverse itself.

Introduce home care early, while your parent is still in control and can build a relationship with a caregiver.

As your parent ages, he or she will only grow towards greater dependence, so the sooner you can warm him or her to the idea of accepting help, the easier the transition will be.

And when you’ve retained superior home care services, your main job is to help the caregiver get in the door. Once your loved one experiences the warmth and ease of a compassionate caregiver, the conversation gets exponentially easier.

If you’ve tried these strategies, and your loved one is still reluctant, let’s talk about strategies to cope with an elderly parent who rejects outside help.

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