When an elderly person refuses to accept help

Facing up to your elderly parents not coping at home is difficult. Dealing with elderly parents who refuse help can be frustrating and heartbreaking at the same time. You want to make their lives as comfortable as possible but they just keep saying no.

Personal story

Here is a personal tale from one of our contributors which illustrates the issue perfectly.

My father lives several hours away from us, alone since my mother died 8 years ago. Everything was fine, on a practical level, for a couple of years. He coped with looking after himself and the house. He continued to drive and was able to shop. His social life continued, with friends in the village inviting him for a meal regularly, and visits to old friends further afield, as well as to his children and grandchildren. But gradually we began to realise that all was not well.

Changes around the house

Every time we went to visit him the contents of the fridge seemed to be less and less edible. It wasn’t just that the sell by dates were a few days passed. There were plates of food which were unrecognisable, covered by a blanket of green and grey. There were milk cartons whose contents were solid. Unidentifiable, reeking, liquids in unmarked bottles. Unopened packets of meat or cheese several months old. The kitchen was not clean, the dishes never done, and even the china in the cupboard was encrusted with food. I’ll spare you the details of the bathroom, but we started having to clean it before we could use it. And the garden, which he had always been proud of, was increasingly unkempt. As he was himself.

We agreed, my siblings and I, that we should encourage him to get some domestic help, maybe some meals delivered. When he said no, we thought perhaps he was no longer up to arranging things himself. We offered to find a cleaner, order food online, hire a gardener. But no, he did not want help.

Taking charge?

Its hard when help is refused, and sadly I don’t have the answer as to how to deal with these situations. Inevitably there will be a crisis at some point, as there has been, more than once, for my father. He has fallen a couple of times, he has become dehydrated and then confused, he has failed to get antibiotics early enough for infections which his body can’t fight alone. On each of these occasions he has ended up in hospital, and we have seized the moment to clean and tidy and throw away and disinfect. Each time he has come home and has, to begin with accepted the temporary help social services provide. But each time he has also refused any long term help. We know it is only a matter of time before the next crisis, and that one of these days he may not be able to call for help in time. We also know we can’t force him to let others into his home to help him.

If you think you might be able to encourage your parents to get more help at home,  you might find some answers in this section of the website useful.

Do you know anyone who has had difficulty in dealing with elderly parents who refuse help? If so recommend they read this article.

If this is a familiar situation and you have any experience you’d like to share, or you would like to ask others for advice, please come and join the conversation in the Age Space Forum.