Strategies to Help Parents Accept Assistance

Posted by Elaine C. Pereira on May 24, 2019
Our guest blogger, Elaine C. Pereira, MA OTR/L CDP CDC is an author, speaker, certified dementia practitioner and caregiver. Contact her at

Advancing age often brings increasing health issues and decreasing abilities. An older parent may eventually need in-home services or assisted living. However, that same parent may resent what they perceive as unnecessary interference by their “children”; my mother certainly did. 

Complicating matters further are circumstances where the adult child has to convince their mom or dad that the other parent needs more assistance. The dynamics get even murkier when one of the older adults is a step-parent. 

Biological Parent and Step Parent

A daughter’s mom and step-father. (Carol. Edna. Chuck)

In this dramatic real-life scenario, Carol’s mother Edna has intermittent memory loss and flawed judgement. Edna lives in Florida; Carol in Michigan. 

During their regular phone chats, Carol noticed a decline in her mom’s reliability and information accuracy. When Edna visited her daughter in Michigan, additional concerns were evident especially managing medications.

Edna’s husband Chuck, although cognitively well oriented, has compromised health issues that have necessitated increasingly more frequent hospitalizations. Despite expressed concerns from Carol about her mom, Chuck says his wife is “fine.”

Not long after Edna returned to Florida, Chuck landed in the emergency room again. Edna was home alone for more than a day before she called her daughter.  When Carol discovered Chuck was hospitalized, she started asking probing questions about safety, meds etc. Not surprisingly, Edna painted an inconsistent picture of reality. Alarmed, Carol jumped on a plane for Florida. 

Meeting with Chuck and her mom, Carol lobbied for in-home assistance citing numerous concerns. Although Chuck promised he would “look into it,” Carol suspected he would not follow through.

Carol started investigating options in advance of the next crisis. Her thorough research connected her with Adult Protective Services in Florida. They could step in quickly if needed. Carol started daily phone chats with her mom and kept tabs on Chuck’s health. When he needed yet another hospitalization, one phone call to ADP and Carol started the wheels in motion.

Collectively APS lobbied firmly in Edna’s behalf to implement in home services, develop a plan for Edna’s care should Chuck need hospitalization in the future and loop Carol in regularly. 

It’s not uncommon for a loved one to be too close to see the deteriorating dynamics playing out in real time. Whereas Chuck had been dismissive of Carol’s concerns, he accepted the intervention strategies of a “local, professional group.”

Compromised Parent

A son, mother and dad.  (Mark. Mary. Roger)  

Mark’s mother Mary is unsafe at home mostly due to physical limitations and mild confusion. Mark lives close enough to stop in frequently and recognizes his mom’s issues. Roger has heart problems and appreciates his son’s help but has refused assistance from “strangers. I can handle anything.”

Mark’s brothers live far away but when they do visit, they have noticed their mother’s decline and father’s denial. 

Veiled under the cloud of ignorance, it often takes a crisis to expose reality. On a cold evening, while Roger was napping on the couch, Mary wandered outside.

“I wanted to see the stars, but I couldn’t find them.” She told the police officer who fortuitously was driving through Mary’s neighborhood. Mary gratefully accepted a “seat in a warm car” while the officer made a few calls and determined where Mary lived. 

This potentially fatal event catapulted Mark and his brothers to almost mandate their parents move into a senior living setting. Roger reluctantly agreed confronted by the reality that the police had saved his wife and he couldn’t “handle anything”.

Avoiding Catastrophes

In truth it’s very difficult to force a parent (or any adult) to move or accept assistance. Consider these recommendations.

  • Try convincing a parent by citing real life events and consequences. This approach has a low success rate, but is a benign first step.
  • Lobby with family/friends to form a united front. 
  • Make a comprehensive list of problem areas and disseminate it with family/ parent. Sometimes seeing it in print gets more attention than a conversation.
  • Talk to your parent’s doctor. If they refuse to allow you in at their appointment, circumvent HIPAA privacy laws by sharing the letter of concerns with nursing staff and lobby firmly that it be forwarded to the parent’s doctor.   
  • Think through in advance what you’re willing to do and be prepared to execute it if needed. (In Edna’s case Carol was considering flying her to Michigan upon Chuck’s next hospitalization and then manage the fault out).
  • Adult Protective Services. This worked with Chuck who perceived them as a “local, professional group.” 
  • Police. Respected outside agencies can enlighten families that they can’t “handle anything”.
  • Declaring a parent legally incompetent. Probably the last resort as the process takes time and can be riddled with complexities.