Caring for the elderly can be challenging — particularly if a loved one is resistant to care. Understand what's causing your loved one's resistance and how you can encourage cooperation.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

One of the toughest challenges you can face when caring for the elderly is resistance to care. How do you help a loved one who doesn't want or resists help? Understand why resistance to care might develop and strategies for fostering cooperation when caring for the elderly.

If your loved one is in need of care, he or she is likely dealing with loss — physical loss, mental loss, the loss of independence. Accepting care might mean relinquishing privacy and adjusting to new routines. As a result, your loved one might feel frightened and vulnerable, angry that he or she needs help or guilty about the idea of becoming a burden to family and friends.

In some cases, your loved one might be stubborn, have mental health concerns or simply think it's a sign of weakness to accept help. He or she might also be worried about the cost of certain types of care. Memory loss might also make it difficult for your loved to understand why he or she needs help.

What's the best way to approach a loved one about the need for care?

If you suspect that your loved one will be resistant to care — whether from family, other close contacts or a service — you might be hesitant to bring up the topic. To start communicating with your loved one about his or her need for care:

  • Determine what help is needed. Make an honest assessment of what kind of help your loved one needs and which services might work best.
  • Choose a time when you and your loved one are relaxed. This will make it easier for you and your loved one to listen to each other and speak your minds.
  • Ask about your loved one's preferences. Does your loved one have a preference about which family member or what type of service provides care? While you might not be able to meet all of your loved one's wishes, it's important to take them into consideration. If your loved one has trouble understanding you, simplify your explanations and the decisions you expect him or her to make.
  • Enlist the help of family members. Family and friends might be able to help you persuade your loved one to accept help.
  • Don't give up. If your loved one doesn't want to discuss the topic the first time you bring it up, try again later.

Getting an aging loved one to accept help can be difficult. To encourage cooperation, you might:

  • Suggest a trial run. Don't ask your loved one to make a final decision about the kind of care he or she receives right away. A trial run will give a hesitant loved one a chance to test the waters and experience the benefits of assistance.
  • Describe care in a positive way. Refer to respite care as an activity your loved one likes. Talk about a home care provider as a friend. You might also call elder care a club, or refer to your loved one as a volunteer or helper at the center.
  • Explain your needs. Consider asking your loved one to accept care to make your life a little easier. Remind your loved one that sometimes you'll both need to compromise on certain issues.
  • Pick your battles. Do your best to understand your loved one's point of view, and focus on the big picture. Avoid fighting with your loved one about minor issues related to his or her care.
  • Explain how care might prolong independence. Accepting some assistance might help your loved one remain in his or her home for as long as possible.
  • Help your loved one cope with the loss of independence. Explain to your loved one that loss of independence isn't a personal failing. Help your loved one to stay active, maintain relationships with caring friends and family, and develop new physically appropriate interests.

Keep in mind that these strategies might not be appropriate when dealing with a loved one who has dementia.

If your loved one continues to resist care and is endangering himself or herself, enlist the help of a professional. Your loved one might be more willing to listen to the advice of a doctor, lawyer or care manager about the importance of receiving care.

Resistance to care is a challenge that many caregivers face. By keeping your loved one involved in decisions about his or her care and explaining the benefits of assistance, you might be able to help your loved one feel more comfortable about accepting help.

Apr. 14, 2014