No Way, No How

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Tips on Coping When Someone Says No to Care 

by Phillip Cooley, Homewatch CareGivers of Charlotte 

With the holidays coming, many families will enjoy spending time together. The holidays are a great time for families living far apart to come together and celebrate. But the holidays can also bring a challenge to some families. What do you do when you realize that Mom or Dad are struggling to remain independent and need some additional help?

Someone has said, “Sometimes having to accept help is harder than giving it.” I would say that it always is.

For worn-out family caregivers reading this, some of you might be shaking your heads at this statement; while others might be nodding in agreement. The truth is, you might be convinced that Mom or Dad need some help, but they are likely having nothing to do with that idea. It is quite common for parents to say no, they are fine, thank you very much, and don’t need any extra help. After all, they can get by just fine as long as you to take them to the doctor next Tuesday, pick up a few essentials from the grocery store on your way home from work, and much more.

Yet, if you were to suggest they need help, maybe even hiring someone to assist them around the house, they are likely to say they don’t need any help.

Just the word “help” can offend some people, even if it just means having a trusted loved one pitch in. Once people have gotten used to living independently, it can be very challenging—and humbling—to ask for and accept assistance with their daily activities.

So how do you deal with someone who needs help but refuses it? It is a challenge, but here are a couple of suggestions.

Who’s In the Driver’s Seat?

When a loved one begins to struggle with living independently–because of age, illness or whatever–it is tempting for us to rush in and start doing things for them. Often, we are quick to tell them what they need. It seems so clear to us. However, before acting on that impulse, hit the pause button and think for a minute.

Even if your loved one is your same-age spouse or your much older-than-you parent, it is still their life. The best approach is to ensure this person that they are very much in the driver’s seat and you are not taking over and trying to dictate what they should do. No one wants to feel like their life and independence have been taken from them, even if done so in a well-meaning effort.Rather than becoming a caregiver, think about being a care partner so that you are both engaged in this new relationship dynamic.

Listen, Don’t Tell

If your loved one is well enough to communicate, start early having a conversation about the future. Rather than just telling them flat out you think they need, begin with a question asking for their thoughts, their feelings and their opinions.

The goal is to create plans based on their preferences and to have “person-directed care” that is rooted in their individual likes and dislikes. You want to start a conversation so that you can talk together about the assistance they might need and be willing to accept, rather than have them clam up.

Sometimes, it might be better if the message doesn’t come from you. You might want to involve a health care provider who can make suggestions.

A person’s ability to communicate and understand may be impaired by their current well-being. For some people living with dementia, the illness can make it a challenge for them to comprehend, much less accept these messages, regardless of the source or tactic.Even if someone cannot articulate that they feel embarrassed or afraid because they need help, keep in mind that it’s likely they do feel this way. Therefore, be sensitive and gentle as you help them make adjustments to live a supported independent life.

As difficult as it might be to have these conversations or even to find the resources to be a family caregiver, keep in mind that there is also some degree of difficulty for the person you are helping.

Whatever the situation today, care needs will change over time. As your loved one’s well-being fluctuates, you will need to have on-going discussions and adjustments for both caregiver and care receiver.

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