what to do with aging parents

When we were young, our parents told us what to do to look out for our safety and wellbeing. And as a child, we listened. However, when our parents reach old age, a role reversal often occurs. As they age, parents are often the ones who cannot properly take care of themselves, leaving us in the role of caretaker.

Suddenly we become the ones giving advice and making decisions about a parent’s living situation and care needs. So, what can we do to encourage a parent to listen to us, their child?

Understand a basic truth

Regardless of who we are, it’s rare for a parent to listen to our advice as we listened to them as children. This is human nature at its core. It’s unnatural for the parent to become the child and they will very likely continue to question and resist. It’s also human nature for all people, regardless of age, to want to remain as independent as possible for as long as possible. Your parent is no different, regardless of how seemingly dependent they have become.

Look at the situation from their perspective

We may believe our parent needs help at home, but they may be fine with the way things are, regardless of how we view their circumstances. Do we want them to get help because we’re not comfortable with their lack of personal hygiene of housekeeping skills? Do we find what they eat distasteful, but they seem to do fine with it?

Define the issues rationally

Define exactly what you believe your parent needs and why. If their circumstances are truly having a negative impact on their health and safety, explain this in a way your parent will understand. Make sure your parent knows you are suggesting they get some care assistance or move to an assisted living facility because you have their best interest at heart.

Consider your motives

Make sure you do have a parent’s best interest at heart. As hard as it is to accept, most of us carry baggage from our childhood. Be open to the possibility that you may be transferring some of the frustration of your own childhood into your interaction with your parent. Don’t be too hard on yourself if this is the case, but remember to set aside those motivations and think solely about what is truly best for your parent. Money issues can be especially tricky.

Understand and take clues from their objections

Once you’ve explained objectively to your parent why you believe receiving care assistance is in their best interest, listen to their comments and yes, objections. Understand what is motivating their refusal. Their objections won’t be hard to understand.

If the topic is in home care, they don’t want another person in their personal space and they don’t want the feeling of being dependent upon another person. If it’s a move to assisted living, they love their home and will be sad to leave, their home is familiar and comforting, and they value the feeling of independence their home gives them.

The more you can understand and validate their objections, the easier it will be to reach common ground eventually.  And understanding why you cannot agree will help to alleviate feelings of stress or anger.

Understand the risks of inaction

What will happen if your parent flatly refuses any help? Are these risks worth accepting? To you? To your parent? As difficult as it is for us to stand by and experience, if your parent has the mental capacity to make their own decisions, and they refuse help knowing full well they may fall or end up in the emergency room, you are powerless to make them see otherwise. If your parent lacks capacity…well, that’s a topic for another blog post.

Look for compromise

Don’t force the issue, and instead, first look for common ground. Your parent may not be accepting of help every day all day, but they may be open to a caregiver coming in several days a week for a few hours. Or, they may not want to move to an assisted living facility, but they may be willing to consider in-home care first. One step may lead to the next.

Your parent is still an adult with years of experience to draw from

Our parent may be forgetful or suffer from physical or cognitive impairment, but they are still adults. Your parent has achieved great things over their long life and those experiences and perspectives deserve your respect.

Go easy on yourself

Things don’t always work out the way we think they should, and sometimes a parent simply won’t listen to us. They may even end up causing themselves harm. Keep in mind you cannot prevent every mishap, and ultimately your parent is still responsible for themselves.


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