When Parents Say: “No, I’m Fine”

As a geriatric care manager one of the most frequent words I hear spoken by older adults to their grown children is, “No, I’m fine.”  The adult senior has fallen, pills are not taken, there is expired food in the refrigerator, Mom is driving (but not texting!) with a revoked license and there is no soiled clothing in the laundry hamper yet the ridgeline on the detergent bottle remains at the same level.

Balancing a parent’s resistance to help with an adult child’s concern for their safety can be challenging, frustrating, worrisome and downright anger provoking. The following are five strategies I have found helpful in approaching this issue:

1. Put yourself in your parent’s shoes. Try to understand how they feel about facing still another loss in their life. This means approach the issue of help with historical sensitivity.

2. Have “the talk” at a time that is good for both of you. Not after you’ve gotten a deadline at work or after your parent has had a visit with her doctor and he is suggesting she stop driving.

3. Look at your family system of siblings, relatives, neighbors, and friends. Who is your father most apt to listen to?  Once determined, enlist the assistance of that person to initiate the discussion.

4. If your mother has difficulty accepting the need for help, tell her of your concern and ask her to accept the help as a favor to you. Yup, she’s fine, the problem is yours.

5. Use an opened-ended approach. “Let’s try this for a month and see how it goes, your opinion will be very important, and we can always make changes.”

As a geriatric care manager, I have seen that these approaches may not work on the first go around. Pull back and try again. Circumstances may change which will alter the balance of resistance versus acceptance. Your patience and empathy to your parents’ situation can be key catalysts to a positive outcome.