January 10

What Might We Do About Older Adult Parents Who Need but Refuse Help

By Rick Banas of Gardant Management Solutions

A couple of conversations over the holidays helped reinforce the challenging situations some older adult children have with their older adult parents.

In one case, an older adult son mentioned to his mother that she needed a hearing aid. The mother retorted that her hearing was just fine. Under no circumstances did she need a hearing aid. Don’t tell her otherwise. The problem was how some people speak. They don’t speak clearly. They fail to enunciate properly. They mumble, so they are hard to understand.

Another older adult son talked about how his older adult parents refused to get the help they needed. At first, they would not agree to allow home health to come into their house for a few hours two or three days a week to provide some assistance. Over time, their needs grew. There was no way, though, that they were going to move into an assisted living or agree to getting the help needed from a home health agency. As far as his parents were concerned, they are just fine. They did not need any help.

What might we as individuals and as a society do, he asked.

From my years of experience, there are many reasons why an older adult refuses to get a hearing aid, get help from a home health agency, or move into an assisted living community.

Stubbornness or pride may be what is causing them not to admit they have reached a point in life where they need assistance. I remember talking to an individual who lived in the Midwest. He said he would never move to a senior living community in his hometown but would move to one down in Florida. The difference, he said, was simple. The difference was how friends and neighbors might perceive the reason for his move. If he moved into a senior living community in his hometown, friends and neighbors might assume he needed to move because his single-family home had become too much from him to handle. If he moved to Florida, he could simply tell friends and neighbors that he was following what so many others have done in their retirement years. He was moving to a warmer climate where he did not have to deal with the cold and snow of winter in the Midwest. They might never find out that he was moving into a senior living community.

Maybe cost is an issue; they don’t have or want to spend the money. They are under the impression that doing nothing will be cheaper.   

Maybe it is their perception that an assisted living community is nothing more than a fancy name for what in their mind is a nursing home. I long ago lost count of the number of older adults who have visited an assisted living community and remarked that it is so different in a positive way from what they were expecting.

In many cases, ageism plays a big role. As a society here in the U.S., we tend to fight rather embrace getting older. People who reach the age of 40 or 50 are considered “over-the-hill.”

Here are four suggestions for what individuals can do.

  1. Don’t wait until a need for assistance develops to start discussing the “what ifs” with your parents and siblings.
  2. Recognize that your parents are used to telling you what they think you should to do. They may find it uncomfortable for you to be telling them what you think they should do. Sometimes, a grandchild or great grandchild may have more impact than you might have.
  3. Understand that no matter what you might think, you cannot force your parents to do something they do not want to do.
  4. Understand that no matter how much talking and pleading you do, it unfortunately might take a crisis to change your parents thinking. I remember a couple who were desperately trying to convince Mom and Dad to move into an assisted living community. No matter how hard they tried, Mom and Dad were simply not moving. The situation changed suddenly when Dad tried to help Mom in the bathroom. Dad fell against the toilet, flooding the bathroom and cutting his hand badly enough that he ended up in the emergency room. Suddenly, it was how quickly can they move into assisted living.

From the standpoint of what society can do, we need work together to more aggressively combat ageism. Our society should embrace older adults for their wisdom grown out of so many years of experience. We need to create the understanding that frailty is not a natural result of growing older.

For those of us in senior and assisted living, we need to continue to work to change people’s perceptions about senior living and assisted living communities. We need to show how we enhance the quality of life and how the lifestyle and services we offer have a positive impact on such factors as an individual’s risk of falling, need to visit an emergency room or be readmitted to a hospital. We need to show the positive impact we can have on reducing, when appropriate, the amount and type of medications residents are taking.  With more and more research indicating that social connectivity is one of the most important factors for healthy aging, we need to continue cite examples of all of the opportunities residents have for social interaction

What might your suggestions be?

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