My aunt, 83, is like my third parent.
She taught in schools around the world and spent every summer living with us. Always single and with no children of her own, she has been, in my mind, a part of our immediate – not extended – family. I love and adore her.
However, a lifetime of living single can apparently also make you impervious to the suggestion you might need help. Even after a fall on the ice that left her outside in the cold for hours, my aunt stubbornly insisted she was fine to live alone in her house.
As my aunt’s ability to live independently lessened, I read everything I could on the subject of elder care and found myself frustrated time and time again as books and articles glossed over the process of getting an elderly relative help. Often, what was implied to be a lengthy ordeal was reduced to a single sentence, “We finally convinced mom to move out of her house.”
Yes, that’s wonderful, I would think. But how? How do you move adults who don’t want to go? How do you get them to accept help when they think they’re fine?
My aunt did finally move into an assisted living facility earlier this year, and I’ll tell you how that came be later in this article. But before we reached that point, I spent years researching this topic, talking to experts in the field and commiserating with other people in similar circumstances. My conclusion is that finding help for stubborn parents and relatives is stressful, time consuming and rarely easy.
While I can’t guarantee any of these will work, here are ten tips if you have your own independent-minded elder.
Presenting a unified front is essential. If you’re telling your parents it’s time to move and your brother tells them otherwise, they may be inclined to dismiss you as overly protective. Meet with other family members prior to approaching your parents or relative so everyone is on the same page.
If you want to be involved with your parents’ affairs, you’ll need to be their durable power of attorney. To make medical decisions in the event they are unable, you’ll need to be designated a patient or health care advocate.
One of the best ways to approach this topic is to complete your own paperwork first. Sharing that you’ve been working on these documents provides a natural segue for you to then offer to help with theirs.
Should that not work, see if your parents’ financial planner, CPA, lawyer or doctor would be willing to impress upon them the importance of having these documents in place.
Many seniors, understandably, don’t want to leave their home. Fortunately, so many resources exist today that make it possible for people to age in place.
From basic alert buttons to sophisticated monitoring systems, technology is making it easier than ever keep seniors safe at home. In-home caregivers are another, albeit pricey, option although some states will pay for these services for certain Medicaid-eligible seniors.
Your parents might remember the dreary, cramped nursing homes of decades past and bristle at the idea of living in a place like that. However, the long-term care facilities of today are a far cry from the old stereotypes. They are often bright, airy places that offer a wide variety of amenities and activities for residents.
Ask your parents to humor you and tour a couple just to see what they are like. It might just change their mind about moving.
If your parents dig in and refuse all help, reach out to those who may have more sway than you. Friends, doctors and clergy members may all be willing to have a discussion with your parent or relative about accepting some help.
Without a power of attorney form, the doctor will be unable to share any information with you. That said, there is no reason you can’t contact him or her prior to a visit to share your concerns.
An executive for a company offering senior alert systems told me once that he had never seen a person sign up for their service because they wanted it. In his experience, seniors almost universally signed up as a favor to their children.
If you find your concerns about your parents’ safety falling on deaf ears, try a different approach. Explain how nervous their situation makes you and have some suggestions ready that could alleviate your stress without highly inconveniencing them.
Even the most independent senior likely has a problem area and isn’t sure how to ask for help. Your job is to identify that area and suggest a solution.
For my aunt, it was her groceries. She would go shopping and then leave the groceries in the car for days until she could find someone to carry them in. That’s how we got a caregiver into her house. We pitched it as a way for her to no longer be bothered with the chore of grocery shopping.
In your situation, it might be cooking, lawn care or taxes. Whatever it is, you may find once you begin offering help in one area, your parents warm up to the idea of accepting other assistance as well.
As long as a senior is driving, there may be little reason in their mind why they need to accept help. However, someone who is homebound may be more inclined to accept assistance or entertain the idea of moving elsewhere.
That said, it is rarely easy to convince a senior to stop driving. I’ve heard of families who have hidden the keys or actually driven away with the car and refused to bring it back. Unless your parent is suffering from advanced dementia, I’m not sure how ethical – let alone legal – these tactics are.
A better approach may be to report your concerns to your state’s motor vehicle department. In my state, residents can fill out a form about a potentially problematic driver so the department can review their record and request a road test. If available in your state, this method is ideal because it doesn’t put you in the position of having to make a judgment call on your parent’s driving ability.
This is how we eventually moved my aunt from her house into assisted living. After landing in the hospital for an illness, I sought out every possible advocate I could find – from a caseworker at her primary care physician’s office to the hospital social worker. I explained her living arrangements, detailed my concerns and asked for their help.
Rather than being discharged to home, the hospital sent her to a rehabilitation center where she was evaluated and a home visit was made. They agreed her house was not a safe environment, and recommended she move to assisted living so that’s where she went. She still talks about going home, but for the time being, I rest well each night knowing she is somewhere safe.
If all else fails, you can go to court and request guardianship so you can forcibly move your parent. This is truly a last resort and should be reserved for extreme cases. I’m not qualified to provide advice on when you should seek guardianship for an elderly relative and I strongly encourage you to speak with a qualified attorney for assistance.
The bottom line is that even elderly relatives with diminished capacities are adults who have rights and who deserve our respect and compassion. Some seniors may live out their days without any assistance, and that is certainly their prerogative. However, for your peace and mind and their safety, I hope one of these ten suggestions will help you get them the help they need.
Have you ever had an elderly relative who needed help but refused to accept it? How did you ultimately get through to them? What approaches were successful? Please share in the comments below.