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Can You Do Anything About Aging Parents’ Resistance To Change?

If you have an aging loved one in your life, you might see what we’re seeing in so many families here at—elders refuse to accept anything new. It can be an assistive device, help at home, replacing what’s broken, or anything.

It might be addressing an obvious hearing loss. Mom or Pop keeps saying “what?” when you tell them something. You try to tactfully suggest a hearing aid. They say they don’t need it. Or you see your loved one walking unsteadily and holding onto furniture just to get around. You say maybe it’s time for a cane or walker. They say they don’t need it. Or they can’t carry a full grocery bag safely anymore. You suggest

hiring a helper. They say they don’t want a stranger in the house.

In my own experience, we were visiting my mother in law, then age 88. She came to greet us at a rented vacation condo. She was so wobbly coming toward us to open the gate, I gasped. I said to my husband “OMG, she needs something to help her walk!” He agreed. When we broached the subject of trying out a walker, she said “No, I don’t want anyone to think I’m a cripple.” We eventually persuaded her to rent one just to try it out. We went with her to the equipment rental place. It was amazing how much steadier she was using it. Eventually she gave in and got one for good. But it took a few months to get her to accept the change!

The Basis of Resistance

What is that stubborn resistance about? It certainly defies logic. We couldn’t approach her with just reason. She had too many excuses. We strategized that if we told her we would be stressed out, worrying about her safety (or hearing loss, or whatever it was), that gave us better leverage. Many parents don’t want to be a burden to their children. We said it was going to be a burden on us, fearing that she would fall. She took that emotional reason much better than any intellectual argument to make a change. I think she was like many aging parents. They don’t want to accept getting older and losing what they used to have—independence. The hearing aid, the assistive device, the home care worker are all symbols of decline to them. And they fear the change.

The Takeaways:

None of us as adult children of aging parents who are experiencing disabling conditions can stop them from being afraid. They fear loss of independence and it’s understandable. Few of us want to be dependent. What we can do is to acknowledge their fears. And we can let them know that we are worried and that this stress is not fair to us when a solution is available to change the worry we have. There are tactful and respectful ways to put it.

Consider these approaches:

  1. Forget using logic and reason. Reason: “Can’t you see you almost fell, Mom??” That will be met with an excuse. Avoid saying things like “it’s for your own good” or arguing about it. That leads to more resistance. Logic and the perfect explanation do not work when fear is the real basis of their saying no.
  2. If your parent does care about being a burden to you, that can be an effective leverage point. Skip the reasonable approach and go right to the emotional one. Try gently saying what you observed and that you will now be so worried about their safety, you would lose sleep over it. Ask if they would please consider how you feel about it and make the change for your sake.
  3. Offer your support when possible. “Can I take you to check out hearing aids, Dad?” Or, as we did, offer to locate and go to a medical equipment supply store and have your aging parent try out the cane, walker or other device. Getting a physical therapy evaluation for safe mobility first would be be ideal, but you may find hard resistance to that. Ask, at least.
  4. Accepting the idea of a helper at home is another, more serious and difficult subject. We take a deeper look here. The resistance probably has the same underlying basis as other refusal to accept something new. Don’t give up trying, for your sake and your aging parents’.

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