Elderly Parent Resistance to Receiving Care
Worried about your parent’s safety and ability to care for themselves independently? You’re not alone. An ever increasing number of adult children find themselves in the uncomfortable position of caring for not only their children but their aging parents as well. This aptly named ‘sandwich generation’ finds themselves worrying about the safety and comfort of the generation that came before them and the generation that follows them, particularly as many baby boomers are now senior citizens. However, many adult children may find providing care to their senior family members much more challenging than their own children.
Many older adults strongly resist receiving care from their adult children. When adult children voice their concerns to their aging parents regarding their ability to live independently, it can quickly escalate to full-blown conflicts between the two parties often resulting in what seems to be an insurmountable family divide. Ironically the adult child’s altruistic intention to provide care and assistance for their aging parent(s) can instead upset the current parent-child dynamic (paradigm) thus challenging the parent’s sense of authority and independence. Indeed the adult child can find themselves dismayed by the parent’s resistance, stubbornness, and even hostility when presented with offers for care either within the family structure or outside. This can result in a series of on-going arguments that can serve to fragment family members and dissolve familial bonds. This web article explores some of the common and or potential reasons behind parental resistance to care. We then discuss ways to help you encourage your senior loved ones to receive the assistance they both deserve and need to live safely and as independently as possible.
Are Your Parent’s Resisting Senior Home Care?
Adult children of resistant parents find themselves asking why their parents are behaving in such a stubborn or obstinate manner? The answer is complex and takes in many variables including your senior loved one’s personality, how they were raised, how they view themselves and how they envision their future. However, one common reason that parents resist care from others is due to fear. The fear may be internal such as being scared of having to admit to inevitable limitations and obstacles in their present life. They may be afraid of losing their sense of independence and being viewed by others as old and infirm. They may also feel fear about losing their position in life and the status that comes with being an independent adult. As well, they may worry about losing their ability to make important and significant choices regarding their life and their future.
According to Michelle Barnhart, a researcher at Oregon State University “We go from thinking of ourselves as children, then young adults, then adults- then we stop.” This perspective points out that we live in a youth-obsessed culture where we do not give much consideration or thought to the entire aging process and what is involved with aging well. We are not taught to accept aging as a normal part of life. Instead, we rally against it, asserting our power and control even when we are struggling. As we age our physical health eventually declines. We face inevitable challenges such as difficulty with mobility or movement, lower levels of energy and an increasing number of health conditions. As a society, we equate being elderly with weakness and incapacitation. We tend to dismiss elderly person’s contribution to our society and marginalize them to the sidelines. No one wants to be identified this way, so it is of little wonder that many senior citizens refuse to be identified in this manner.
Externally based fears can also lead to parental resistance to care.
Like many people, elderly parents may worry about issues such as home theft, personal safety and elder abuse. Problems that may occur when accepting care or help from someone outside their inner circle. Additionally, they may worry that giving their permission to receive care will begin a slippery slope effect whereby they begin to lose everything bit by bit, including their home, possessions and eventual freedom.
Emotions Play A Big Role
Other common emotions that may cause parental resistance to care are embarrassment and shame. For instance, parental resistance to care may result from embarrassment over an inability to speak or understand English very well thus preventing them from communicating effectively with an outside caregiver. Many seniors may also experience incontinence and not want anyone to know instead dealing with their feelings of shame associated with this common condition privately.
One of the most significant reasons that inhibit seniors from reaching out for help is the cost of home care. Seniors value their ability to leave possessions and money behind for their loved ones one they die. A senior may feel that they can get by without help, and this saving then affords them the ability to leave an inheritance for their loved ones.(transistionalcaremanagment.com) As well, many seniors live on fixed incomes that do not allow a lot of leeway for expenditures such as home care, which is often viewed as a luxury instead of as a necessity.
As well, some parents may choose to receive help from their adult children but resist help for other organizations and agencies in society. This decision may be driven on an emotional level whereby many seniors feel a comfort level with their children that they do not feel with outsiders. As well, cultural practices and values may play a role in this decision. Some parents have the expectation that their children with help support them in their old age and view outside help as the adult child’s attempt to avert this responsibility.
On the flip side, many adult children are in a much different position that was their parents and earlier generations regarding providing care. In the past, many senior’s relied heavily on receiving care from their children. Wives and mothers often took on this role as primary family caregivers. They would care for their children and the senior members of the household. Today there are many more pressures placed on adult children. Many families are now dual income households, meaning that both spouses have to work and sustain their careers to make ends meet. As well, the overall family structure is changing, with the former nuclear family being replaced by other models such as single parent families and blended families. Our society has also become more migratory in nature in that many adult children live and maintain employment in geographic areas that are quite distant from their parents. With the advent of new technologies such as increased mobility and the internet, parents have to work even harder at monitoring and caring for their children’s safety. Finally seniors today have much fewer children to rely on that past generations. In many families, there may only be one or two children who can help their parents as they age. As such, many adult children today need the help of outside organizations, to help provide home care and safety for their parents. The parental resistance to care can be extremely frustrating and be debilitating to deal with particularly when added to the other stresses with which they have to contend.
Another interesting reason for parental resistance to care is that parents feel they may become a burden to their children. Living in a society that celebrates complete independence can lead some seniors to believe that they are of lesser value if they ask for or require help. They want their children and others to view them as strong and vital and to remember them that way even after they have passed. Ironically, by resisting care offered in order to not be a physical burden, elderly parents can leave their adult children with an even heavier emotional burden. This burden often involves guilt, insecurity, and fear over their senior loved one’s safety and care.
Could The Resistance to Care Be Dementia?
Finally, we would be remiss to not discuss one of the main reasons that lead to parental resistance to care –they may be suffering from Dementia. The older a person becomes, the more at risk they are for developing dementia. Dementia at it’s most basic level affects how a person thinks and behaves. As part of the illness, persons with dementia, lose the cognitive ability to reason, use proper judgment and think rationally. They lose the necessary insight to realize that they need help and sometimes resist it vehemently and violently. Dementia is a disease and is not a part of normal aging. It can be determined and diagnosed through medical assessment. Adult children of persons with dementia can face a long struggle and irrational levels of resistance when trying to get help for their parent. Even getting their parent to a doctor to receive an assessment can be an on-going battle.
Many adult children can find themselves caught in a familiar pattern of continually offering their parent care and being refused time and time again. Each social exchange leaving the adult child more frustrated and the parent increasingly resistant. If this argument continues over time, exasperated parents may find ways to retaliate and rebel against their adult children leading to some concerning and questionable behaviours on their part. Parents may engage in unsafe behaviours on purpose to make a point to their children that they cannot and will not be controlled. Alternatively, they may take part in unsafe activities or tasks and not let anyone know, in order to avoid anyone impinging or limiting their freedom. They may also limit their adult children’s access to their medical or health information as a way of retaining control of their lives and decision making.
In some ways the aging process can be viewed in our era as a great cosmic joke that leaves no one laughing. On one hand, parents have children to care for and raise with their values. Children spend much of there early life being intricately cared for by their parents who are powerful authority figures in their lives. As children age, they find their own way and live more independently. As parents age, however, they find themselves in the unenviable position of needing ever more care and having to turn to the very ones they raised to receive such care. This reversal of roles can be a very humbling experience and difficult for some seniors to handle. Going from being the powerful parent figure to now being a dependent who is expected to follow their children’s advice and directions can be very discombobulating. Parents can feel like they have tumbled from the top of the family totem to the bottom. Adult children also feel perplexed by this turn of events. Giving advice, guidance and setting boundaries to the person who once directed their lives as children can be very difficult. In our society, with is largely youth obsessed, elderly persons can feel weak, displaced and disrespected. Viewed from this perspective and taking into account all the reasons discussed above, it is of little wonder that a number of parents are resistant to receiving help from their adult children and others.