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What to Do When Your Elderly Loved One Refuses Help

  • Caregiving Advice
  • 2024-07-08 20:24:30

Caring for an elderly loved one, especially when they are extremely stubborn, can be a challenging and emotionally taxing experience. This article aims to provide practical advice and strategies to help you navigate this difficult situation, using a real-life scenario to illustrate the challenges and potential solutions.

Example Scenario

Let’s consider the case of a 92-year-old mother-in-law who lives in the basement of your home. She is fiercely independent, managing her finances, driving, and preparing simple meals despite severe arthritis, scoliosis, and chronic pain. She occasionally forgets to use her walker, increasing her risk of falls. Despite her doctor’s recommendation for a caregiver and advice against driving, she remains adamant about maintaining her independence. The kitchen incidents and her resistance to external help raise safety concerns. What can you do when she is so resistant to change?

Understanding the Root of Stubbornness

Stubbornness in the elderly often stems from various factors such as:

  1. Fear of Losing Independence: Many seniors fear losing control over their lives, leading to resistance against any perceived threats to their autonomy.
  2. Cognitive Decline: Forgetfulness or cognitive impairments can make them more rigid in their habits and routines.
  3. Pain and Discomfort: Chronic pain can affect their mood and behavior, making them more irritable and less cooperative.
  4. Emotional Factors: Feelings of loneliness, depression, or anxiety can manifest as stubborn behavior.

Understanding these underlying factors is the first step in addressing the issue effectively.

Strategies for Dealing with Stubbornness

Here are some practical strategies to help manage a stubborn elderly loved one:

  1. Communication and Empathy:
    • Active Listening: Listen to their concerns and frustrations without interrupting. Show empathy and validate their feelings.
    • Open Dialogue: Maintain an open line of communication. Explain your concerns and the reasons behind your suggestions in a calm and respectful manner.
  2. Involve Them in Decision-Making:
    • Collaborative Approach: Instead of imposing decisions, involve them in the process. Discuss options and allow them to have a say in their care plan.
    • Compromise: Find middle ground where possible. For example, if they resist full-time caregiving, suggest trying it for a few hours a day initially.
  3. Seek Professional Help:
    • Geriatrician Consultation: Schedule a consultation with a geriatrician who specializes in elderly care. They can provide tailored advice and interventions.
    • Therapy and Counseling: Consider therapy for both the elderly loved one and the family. Counseling can help address underlying emotional issues and improve family dynamics.
  4. Implement Safety Measures:
    • Home Modifications: Make necessary modifications to enhance safety. Install grab bars, remove tripping hazards, and ensure adequate lighting.
    • Technology Solutions: Use technology such as medical alert systems, smart smoke detectors, and motion sensors to monitor their safety.
  5. Gradual Introduction of Care:
    • Trial Periods: Introduce caregiving services on a trial basis. This can help them get used to the idea gradually.
    • Familiar Caregivers: Choose caregivers who can build a rapport with your loved one. Familiarity can reduce resistance.
  6. Educate and Reassure:
    • Provide Information: Educate them about the benefits of assistance and how it can enhance their quality of life.
    • Reassurance: Reassure them that accepting help is not a loss of independence but a means to continue living safely and comfortably.
  7. Address Driving Concerns:
    • Alternative Transportation: Arrange for alternative transportation options such as family rides, senior transportation services, or ride-sharing apps.
    • Medical Evaluation: Request a medical evaluation to assess their driving capabilities objectively. Sometimes hearing it from a professional can have a significant impact.

Practical Steps in the Scenario

In the given scenario, here are some specific steps you can take:

  1. Safety in the Kitchen:
    • Automatic Shut-off Devices: Install automatic shut-off devices for the microwave, toaster, and toaster oven to prevent kitchen incidents.
    • Meal Preparation: Prepare meals in advance or use meal delivery services to reduce the need for cooking.
  2. Encouraging Walker Use:
    • Visual Reminders: Place visual reminders around the house to encourage walker use.
    • Positive Reinforcement: Praise and positively reinforce when she uses the walker.
  3. Driving Concerns:
    • Professional Assessment: Schedule a professional driving assessment to evaluate her driving skills.
    • Alternative Transport: Explore alternative transportation options that she feels comfortable with.
  4. Caregiver Introduction:
    • Trial Basis: Introduce a caregiver on a part-time basis to start with, perhaps as a companion rather than a caregiver.
    • Involvement in Selection: Involve her in the caregiver selection process to ensure she feels comfortable with the person.

Addressing Emotional and Psychological Needs

Emotional and psychological well-being plays a significant role in an elderly person’s behavior. Addressing these aspects can help reduce stubbornness:

  1. Social Interaction:
    • Encourage Social Activities: Encourage participation in social activities, community events, or senior centers to reduce feelings of loneliness.
    • Family Involvement: Increase family visits and interactions to provide emotional support.
  2. Mental Stimulation:
    • Hobbies and Interests: Encourage engagement in hobbies and activities that she enjoys and can safely participate in.
    • Cognitive Exercises: Introduce cognitive exercises and games to keep her mind active.
  3. Emotional Support:
    • Counseling: Consider counseling or therapy to address any emotional issues or depression.
    • Support Groups: Join support groups for seniors to share experiences and receive support from peers.


Dealing with a stubborn elderly loved one requires patience, understanding, and a strategic approach. By addressing the underlying causes of their behavior and implementing practical solutions, you can enhance their safety, well-being, and quality of life. Remember to maintain open communication, involve them in decision-making, and seek professional help when needed. Each situation is unique, so tailor these strategies to fit your specific circumstances and your loved one’s needs. With the right approach, you can navigate this challenging phase and ensure the best possible care for your elderly loved one.

Additional Resources and Support

For further support and resources, consider reaching out to:

  • Local Senior Centers: They often provide valuable resources, support groups, and activities for seniors. Search for One Now

Other Resources

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