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  • Jon Shaw

Ways to Deal with a Parent Who Refuses Care

Updated: Sep 26, 2022

1. Find out what motivates them

For most people, aging is a challenging process. Many older people live with dementia or mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. The best way to communicate with your elderly parent is to incorporate their feelings when telling them they need help. Getting to the root cause of their opposition to care is key at this stage of the conversation.

  • Is being oppositional a habitual behavior for them?

  • Do they fear losing their independence?

  • Do they have depression or anxiety?

  • Do they seem confused or do they have dementia?

  • What else might they be afraid of?

2. Accept the situation

Even though you have your parents' best interests in mind, they are in control of their own life and care options. It doesn't matter if their loved ones believe the choices they make are poor choices, they still have the right to make their own care decisions, even if they are aging and may need care.

You can lower your stress and even improve your relationship with your aging parents by accepting this fact - no matter how difficult it is.

3. Decide which battles to fight

If you stop insisting your parents update their phones, join a fitness class, or complete other beneficial, but not essential, tasks, you might find you have a better case.

Focus on the matters that are most important - at least initially. For example, matters involving your parents' safety should be prioritized.

However, if you don't bombard them with several concerns at once, no matter how valid they are, they're much more likely to take them seriously.

4. Treat your aging parents like adults

It may feel as if you are switching roles with your parents at times, but acknowledging them and treating them respectfully will make helping them easier.

“Avoid infantilizing your parents,” says Dr. Robert Kane, former director of the Center on Aging at the University of Minnesota, and author of The Good Caregiver.

“Dealing with a stubborn parent is not the same as dealing with a stubborn child. Older people should be autonomous,” he says.

You want your parents to receive the best possible care, so always remember this when assisting elderly parents who refuse help. The older they get, the more likely you are to have positive results, and this goes for both simple tasks, such as helping your aging parents remember to take their medications, and more complex tasks, such as getting them diabetes treatment.

5. If your children (or grandchildren) are involved, ask them to help

Perhaps your parents will change their behavior for a loved one if they are unwilling to do so for themselves. The best way to help elderly parents who refuse help is to communicate your worries to them and explain how following your advice will help ease your anxieties.

6. Find an outlet for your feelings

It is important to vent if your elderly parent is refusing to move to a safer living environment or take their medication as directed - but not to them. Talk to a friend, sibling, therapist, or online support group.

You should pay particular attention to this if you are the primary caregiver for your elderly parents. No matter how deeply you care for your elderly parents, it's easy to get overwhelmed with frustration, fear, and anxiety. Protect yourself by taking care of yourself and finding activities that allow you to release negative emotions.

7. Include them in future plans

A future plan can motivate your aging loved one to receive the care they need. It can be very hard for seniors to cope with, or even acknowledge, any kind of memory loss, even if your parents haven't been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. You can ease your elderly parents' anxiety by helping them remember important dates.

Put on the calendar a family celebration they want to attend, such as an anniversary, graduation, or wedding. Talk about it frequently to share the excitement and keep them focused on upcoming events.


Even though you care about your parents, remember that, in the end, they have autonomy over their decisions. Ensure the elderly person or persons at the center of the conversation understand that you are coming from a place of love and care by having open conversations and establishing a middle ground.

Helping elderly parents who refuse help can be less stressful if you pay attention to their needs and balance those against the advice of health professionals - even if they don't always take your advice.

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