21 March 2022

How to support a loved one who doesn't want support

woman talking to upset mother

When a loved one gets to a point in their life when they need support, many of us will want to step up and help them to get the care they need. But what do you do when someone in your family needs support but doesn’t want it? Whether through old age, a disability, or illness, there are many instances when care becomes beneficial, if not necessary, to someone’s long-term health. In this guide, we offer some tips and advice for how to support a loved one who doesn’t want support, helping you to navigate this difficult situation.

Offer options and make sure they understand the situation

There is no doubt that conversations around care with someone like an ageing parent can be difficult, especially if that parent is refusing to accept support. As a result, it’s important that we learn how to have these discussions.

Pamela D. Wilson, is a national caregiving expert, educator, advocate, and speaker, has more than 20 years of experience as a court-appointed guardian, power of attorney, and care manager. Pamela has shared some advice on the subject and how to hopefully avoid the situation of a parent refusing care in the first place:

“How do adult children talk to parents about the practicality of accepting a little help to avoid needing more costly or bothersome care later? Keeping in mind the personal responsibility of ageing parents to remain self-sufficient, here are a few questions to ask to open the discussion:

  • Where do ageing parents want to live? Most will say at home.
  • What physical conditions or health concerns might make living at home to be increasingly problematic?
  • What is a parent's plan to remain physically active or limit the risk of having an accident in the house if balance or health issues exist that raise the likelihood of an adverse event?
  • What money is available to pay for care in the home or a care community if parents cannot continue to live independently at home because of physical or health concerns?
  • Is there a system to schedule ongoing consultations with physicians or other healthcare providers to manage and prevent conditions from advancing?

“While discussions about needing help or advancing health issues may be uncomfortable, it's essential to begin this conversation early before a parent's needs become significant or adult children are overwhelmed with providing care. Admittedly, there will be occasions when ageing parents deny advancing health issues and risks by choosing to do nothing.”

If you have an ageing parent who is refusing support or extra care, providing options and making sure they are fully aware of their situation is important. Pamela believes these two approaches are a helpful way to approach this difficult situation:

“In the case of care refusals, the best family caregivers can do is to offer options for assistance and make sure that the consequences of not accepting help are clearly outlined. Having a backup plan to move a parent out of a home or bring care into a parent's home is essential to prevent responding to a crisis.”

If a loved one doesn’t have a true comprehension of the seriousness of their situation, they can’t be expected to make an informed decision so making sure they are aware, as Pamela shares, will be a helpful first step. Providing options for what future support might look like can also help them find a solution they are more comfortable with.

Listen and empathise

When someone puts up a wall against receiving help, even if it is something simple like installing stairlifts, it can do more harm than good to put pressure on them. It’s important to listen to their concerns and try to understand why they are feeling this way. Try your best to empathise with the situation, even when you strongly disagree with their decisions. Refrain from being dismissive of their concerns when it comes to receiving extra help as pushing the question too hard can push them further away from getting the help they need.

Be patient with them 

father and son talking

One of the most important things you can do is to learn to be patient with them. It can be hard to adjust to a disability, the effects of an illness, or the difficulties that old age presents. They might be finding it hard to accept their new circumstances and be finding the situation they are in to be difficult. So, if they are averse to accepting help and support right now, be patient, be kind, and make sure they know you are there for them when they are ready. Not everyone moves at the same pace and even if you are seeing things more clearly than they are right now, it’s their life and they must come to terms with things in their own time. Getting angry and frustrated at their resistance to help will not help them or you.

Gently introduce support

We spoke to Helen at Age Space, an online community for those caring for ageing parents, who shared this top tip with us, advising to take a gradual approach to introducing support: “Start slowly and gently introduce extra support into their home. Starting with useful aids to make life a little easier and progress to home care technology such as personal fall alarms and home monitoring systems. If their care needs are more advanced, again start slowly and introduce the idea of extra help with domestic activities before progressing to the conversation about having a home carer. 

“When talking to elderly parents/relatives, the most important thing to stress is that all of these new additions are designed to help ageing relatives to remain living at home safely and independently for longer. It's about enabling their independence (and yours), not taking it away.”

Try to compromise

Learning to compromise in life is a skill that will serve you well in many areas and it is particularly useful when it comes to helping loved ones who are hesitant to receive support.

If they say no to having a carer come to their home every day, for example, perhaps suggest something more part-time, like a couple of days a week. If they don’t want to leave their home to move in with you, perhaps someone coming to check in on them throughout the week might be more pleasing to them. Or maybe you can suggest trialling a new level of support, like a carer or a family member cooking for them, just for a few weeks to see how it goes.

Easing in like this without a full-on commitment might help them to embrace the change slowly. So, compromise, meet your loved one halfway, even if you don’t get exactly what you think they need right now.

Seek help

Sometimes it can be helpful to consult a third party, like your loved one’s doctor, to ask them for their professional advice. It might be the case that they agree that more help could be needed, and a family member might be more likely to accept the advice of a neutral figure.

It can also be helpful to talk to others who know your situation through their own experiences caring for a relative. There are organisations out there dedicated to offering support for carers as this role can be truly challenging.

For example, the aforementioned Age Space is an online community for those caring for elderly parents, offering free advice, guides, and information.

There are also local organisations depending on where you live, such as Carer’s Support East Kent, offering support and information in person, online, and over the phone. You can look to see what help is available in your local area.

Ask questions 

daugther talking with older mother

Engaging in actual dialogue with your loved one is also important, not just telling them what you think they need and ignoring their concerns. Instead, ask questions, find out how they feel, ask them what they want for their future, and what their fears are. By asking questions, you can better understand them and why they are resistant to the help being offered. Then you can better approach the situation and find areas that you can agree on. If you ask them, ‘why don’t you want a carer to help you?’, perhaps they will say, ‘I want to retain my independence’. You can then offer a solution that works for everyone.

Be informed

Another step to take is to make sure that you are as informed as possible regarding your loved one’s situation. By learning about their disability, condition, or illness, you can know how to help them when they ask. They might also appreciate you taking this interest in what they are dealing with, helping them feel like they are not alone. If they are not ready to receive support now, making sure you are prepared for the time when they are will be beneficial for everyone.

Be available

mother and daughter

Sometimes just letting your loved one know that you are there for them is the best thing you can do. If they don’t want to accept concrete help right now, just be available as a loving presence in their life. Let them know that you are on hand, visit them frequently, ask how they are, be observant, and be gentle with them. Instead of spending all your time arguing about how they need more help, make your time with them pleasant and enjoyable. Be that sympathetic ear and ready to help when they do ask.  

Susanne, a caregiver from the blog Caregiver Warrior, has found that being available like this creates an opportunity for help to be asked for: “When it came to daily tasks it was also extremely helpful if I stood by and allowed her to try and do things by herself (unless by doing so she would injure herself or others) and then pleasantly say things like ‘whatcha doin’ over here?’ It created the opportunity for her to ask for my help without feeling ashamed or inadequate. It took the pressure off both of us.”

Tips for how to support a loved one who doesn’t want help

  • Offer options and make sure they understand the situation
  • Listen and empathise
  • Be patient with them
  • Gently introduce support
  • Try to compromise
  • Seek help
  • Ask questions
  • Be informed
  • Be available

If your loved one would benefit from a mobility aid as a first step in receiving further support, we are experts at providing and installing stairlifts in the UK. Please get in touch for a free quote to see how we can help.

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