What to Do When Your Loved One Refuses Care

Does your older loved one refuse assistance from family members? Maybe you’ve used the word “stubborn” to describe their behaviors lately? If your loved one struggles with accepting help or support, it can be frustrating for everyone. However, the more you know about why they are refusing care and some potential solutions, the better your relationship can be and the better care they can receive.

What are examples of refusing care?

Before we talk about why your loved one might refuse offers of assistance, we should talk about what refusing care can entail. Of course, like anything, refusing care is quite unique to each individual. However, there are a few common scenarios that you might see if you are in a caregiving role:

  • Refusing to let you help them use the bathroom or shower
  • Staying in dirty clothes because they don’t want anyone helping them
  • Not eating well because they refuse your assistance with making meals to put in the fridge
  • Not answering the door for support services, like Meals on Wheels

Is it dangerous for my loved one to refuse care?

Refusing care can lead to some potentially dangerous situations, certainly. For example, refusing help in the shower can lead to increased fall risk. Remaining in the same clothes for days at a time can lead to skin issues or urinary tract infections. Eating poorly can lead to a decreased immune system response, decreased weight, and other medical complications.

In short, refusing help can end up resulting in unplanned medical visits, illnesses, or other challenges.

Why does my loved one refuse care?

Your loved one might refuse care because they believe they do not need it. They might not realize they are quite unsteady on their feet while they are showering or that they are rapidly losing weight. Instead, they think they are doing just fine.

Your loved one might also refuse your assistance because they don’t want to be a burden to you or because they feel embarrassed or ashamed. If they live with cognitive decline, they may refuse care because they do not remember that it has been days since they last changed clothes or eaten a well-rounded meal.

Refusing care is often rooted in wanting to maintain their independence, which is understandable. However, when the older adult begins to welcome and accept assistance, they will realize they have more energy and less stress, helping them feel better and more independent.

How can I convince them to let me help?

Just like any difficult conversation during the aging process, it is important to approach your loved one from a place of empathy and understanding. Do your best to listen to what they are saying as well as watch their nonverbal cues to help you understand why they might be refusing care. 

It can also be helpful to talk about specific concerns about their health you are noticing as a result of their refusal. For example, try saying, “Mom, those three UTIs you had last month were painful for you and I don’t want you to have to go through that again. Letting me help you change your clothes at nighttime will be a good step to preventing that.”

You can also brainstorm with your loved one about ways you can assist them so that they feel comfortable. Would they feel better if you helped them into the shower and then stepped outside the closed door until they were done? Would they feel more open to the idea of the two of you working together to prepare a few meals for the fridge?

Finally, sometimes having a family member in a caregiver role is just not ideal for the adult child or the older loved one. We see this a lot at CaringGivers and are happy to step in as a “change of face”. Our caregivers are not family members, which can make their assistance less intimidating or vulnerable. We have also found that a consistent caregiver present in the home can make the older adult more open to the idea of assistance from family members when they stop by for a visit.

If you are struggling with a refusal of care situation, call us. We’d love to help!

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