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CARE

How to cope when an aging parent refuses your help

It's not easy to watch your parent age, especially when you realize that a parent may need more help than he or she wants to admit.  

If you've always had a good relationship and open communication with your parent, it makes this time of life a little easier. The aging process can become very challenging when the relationship is strained, if there is stress in the family because of illness, finances or other issues, or if there are underlying health concerns, like depression or anxiety.  

I often share these suggestions with my patients and their family members.  

Stay involved and stay positive. Understand that your parent will want to stay independent as long as possible. Sometimes his or her frustration or fear about losing independence may be directed at you in the form of anger. Try to rise above this and remain calm and positive.  

Watch for signs that your parent needs more help. Are the bills being paid on time? Is food in the refrigerator past the expiration date? Are medications getting refilled and taken correctly? If not, you should have a frank talk with your parent. Ideally, this is not a conversation that comes out of the blue, but is a natural discussion that is part of your established relationship.  

If your parent is driving, go for a ride. One of the touchiest issues that adult children face with their aging parents is driving. Ride along with your parent every so often instead of always being the chauffeur. If you are concerned about his or her driving, consider talking to your parent's provider. Another option, if your parent is willing, is the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute's Driver Assessment and Training Service.   

Remain positive. I said it before, but it bears repeating. Emphasize that you want your parent to remain independent and safe at home as long as possible. You're not there to "take over" but to help him or her stay healthy and happy at home. Sometimes it helps to acknowledge that things are changing and to encourage your parent to talk to you about how it makes him or her feel.  

If your parent is very opposed to your help, consider whether there is more going on than just aging. While dementia is often the first concern, other illnesses could also be involved. Conditions like depression or anxiety can affect older people differently. For example, in an older person, depression can cause forgetfulness, confusion and slow thinking more than overt sadness or tears. Your parent may benefit from a cognitive screening at his or her next provider's visit, or a complete neuro-psychological evaluation.

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