I recently presented on elder care to seemingly dissimilar groups. Despite their backgrounds, they all had the common bond of resistant parents. Inspired by their questions, I’m going to share my top 4 tips on communicating with a resistant senior.

For perspective that you’re not alone, AgingCare.com reported 65% of people with long-term care needs rely exclusively on family and friends to provide assistance. In addition, TD Ameritrade conducted a survey finding that 20% of millennials report supporting aging parents. 

  1. Your parent has dementia: If your parent is already experiencing dementia then it will be very difficult to make headway as you can’t build off progress. Depending on the dementia you’ll likely be starting from a clean slate each day. It’s very difficult to build trust in a day, and even if you do, you’ll have to find a way to easily replicate that success. Your best bet is connecting your senior with a resource they instinctually trust, which may mean introducing them to a number of people or environments to see who or what clicks for them. In my situation my father instantly trusted me. I don’t know why, but he followed my lead despite neighbors and community resources suggesting the same thing for months (maybe years). Don’t lose hope, just keep presenting your idea in a new way or from a new mouthpiece. If this isn’t working or not possible, it’s simply time to enact agency and pull rank in the kindest ways possible. Remember, this is exactly why they created estate plans.
  2. It’s not you, it’s me: Most caregivers don’t want to give off the vibe that they’re inconvenienced by accommodating their parent’s wishes to remain independent, but at some point you need to be honest. It’s ridiculous to toss and turn all night worrying they fell simply because they refuse to wear an emergency button. TELL THEM YOU’RE NOT SLEEPING. Most parents wouldn’t want to put you at a disadvantage over something with a simple solution. In a way you’re asking for their help, which empowers a parent.
  3. Come from the same place: Your parent unfortunately thinks you’re trying to strip them of their independence when you’re actually trying to support it (or at least that’s your intention). You have to adjust your language to show you’re coming from the same place. Neither of you want to end up in “a home.” Discuss what “a home” is and what it’s NOT. Support your discussion by taking tours of assisted living, trying an Uber for their next doctor’s appointment, and booking a mobile hair appointment. Remind them that small transitions support aging gracefully and that change is apart of anyone’s life. Change is what keeps us young and interesting.
  4. Stop working on assumptions:  I routinely hear “I can’t afford it,” despite never crunching the numbers or considering the big picture. Many seniors have done an amazing job living on a fixed income which of course makes most amenities seem out of reach. Don’t allow a knee jerk reaction about money or care perceptions sabotage transition. Explore the true root of resistance and address it with facts. When considering any transition do a full review of net worth, income, family dynamics, care options, expectations, longevity, estate plans, health and the consequences of indecision. Connecting families to the correct professionals and illustrating their questions in a meaningful way is exactly where I provide value to families.

Final thoughts: Keep in mind that your spunky parent isn’t a child you’re raising with a long life ahead of them. While it’s upsetting they aren’t taking your advice on health or safety, potentially they’ve made peace with their situation before you have. Maybe they’ve weighed the possibility that their decisions mean 1 more year of familiar life that ends with a broken hip vs 5 more years of what they feel is a watered down existence. For your own sake, be prepared for crisis since they refuse to engage in crisis prevention.

Watch my video to hear tips on communicating with a resistant parent. 

Help your friends by sharing these great tips!

About the Author

Quentara Costa helps the sandwich generation prioritize kids, self, and aging parents. For years Quentara was the primary caregiver for her father who was diagnosed with Alzheimers at the age of 70. Since his passing she’s become a mother of two sweet girls. Professionally she received a master’s degree in Personal Financial Planning from Bentley University and has held the CFP® designation since 2010. Community involvement includes hosting the Merrimack Valley Senior and Caregiver Group and volunteering for Budget Buddies.

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Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Deborah Chiaravalloti says:

    Hi, I was just reading this article and finding that I agree with so much of what you say. I cared for my mother for many years while she was going through the stages of dementia. It was the “Great Learning” of how to truly be in the moment with her. It was no longer a saying, it became very real and instructive for me. It was also a lesson in true love.
    Then I noticed you graduated from Bentley, so did my son, then I noticed you live in North Andover, so does my son. I live in Swampscott. Nice to read a great piece from someone who is local! I will connect with you on Linkedin. I am a professional healthcare writer, formerly a VP of Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport. Nice to find you!

  • Sheryl G Pincus, MS, RN says:

    One thing that I think all families need to assess is whether the senior is mentally capable of make this difficult decision. In your 4 tips, the first one addresses dementia. Depending on the level/severity, the senior may be losing (or has already lost) the ability to make coherent decisions. The family may have to take the next step, which is a legal one, to arrange for a guardianship for the senior. If the senior does not have the mental capacity to care for him/herself, properly perform the Activities of Daily Living (dressing, bathing, etc.), then the family may have to enter the legal system to obtain a determination that the senior is “not mentally competent.” But for other situations, where it appears that the senior is lucid and able to make competent decisions, then it may indeed be resistance to change, fear of losing independence, etc. It seems that without assessing the senior’s mental capacity, it may not simply be, “one size fits all.”

    • You are absolutely correct! I mention toward the end of the dementia segment that it may be time to utilize legal documents if the situation warrants. Situations like this is exactly why they were created. In the event they are not in place they would need to be created through court order if compentency is clearly an issue.

  • Good content. Right on track. The only other thing I’d add is the abundant value of listening. In working with seniors for decades, I’ve found that to be the most respectful activity you can do. Simply listen. As they talk, you will be able to identify your window of opportunity for gentle guidance.

    • You’re right! The art of listening and patience could be its own how-to piece. It’s so important to remember but very difficult for some people to recognize the moment.

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