When asked about their preferences for living arrangements, it should come as no surprise that many of our parents would like to remain in their own homes and actually the majority of them do so. If this is the case with your parents or aging loved ones, then you may be faced with how to go about making this a viable option. Bringing in outside help is frequently NOT a choice that many older folks are agreeable to, in spite of the obvious need. They often express that help is not needed and are very capable of managing on their own. Understanding that their perception of any outside assistance is often seen as a threat to their independence or an invasion of their privacy is foremost. My experiences helping families with coming to grips with these issues and problem solving have left me with some ideas and suggestions that you may find worth a try.

When your parents or older loved ones are both living, and in their own home together, direct your attention to the less needy one. For instance, suggest that his/her spouse would be the one to benefit from outside assistance even when they both might. By allying yourself with the more independent parent, you may ultimately be able to get them both to accept the help they require.

Another approach might be to suggest hiring a caregiver to manage some household chores and NOT actual “hands-on care” or personal assistance. Often times this is seen as less threatening to a loved one’s independence and will serve as a means to “get the caregiver in the door”. Place the emphasis on getting help handling the heavy housework such as vacuuming, bed linen changes, and possibly even yard work due to some declining physical limitations. Or suggest help with food shopping, travel to Dr appointments, and other errands when driving is no longer an option. In this manner, you might have your parents accept help they would not have otherwise been agreeable to. Your hope is that they will see the value in having assistance and develop a trusting relationship with their caregiver. The expectant outcome is that they will become more open to the idea of allowing he/she to provide other types of assistance such as personal care when needed.

When your parent or loved one is living alone or with you, focus the attention on YOU as the caregiver needing the help and NOT your loved one’s need for assistance. Emphasize that you would be the one to benefit from such help as many parents place concern for their children’ welfare before their own. Suggest that bringing in a housekeeper for instance, would alleviate your worry about managing daily household chores such as cleaning, shopping, meals, and laundry. Or should a nurse aide come in to assist your loved one with bathing and personal care, you would have more time to manage other household responsibilities. As a working caregiver, suggest that by having a companion/assistant stay with your loved one, it would relieve you of worries and concerns while away. Remember to downplay them as the cause for getting help, but instead stress that YOU, the caregiver, are the reason that assistance needed.

Another idea might be to seek the help and advice of a trusted professional who is someone your parents hold in high regard. They might surprise you by their willingness to accept the advice of a long time family physician, a former or current home health nurse, or a family friend in the medical field, prior to your own input. Employ their trusted status as a means to relay your concerns and advise your parents in the right direction.

In many families, your conflicting role as the child and caregiver thwarts your well-meaning attempts at helping your parents. The basis for your actions should not be confused by misguided guilt. Therefore do not take their rebuttals personally or offensively, but rather focus on a necessary means to an end.

Clare Absher