Helping Reluctant Seniors

A personal story about helping reluctant seniors to receive help. Shared by Helping Hands Respite Care’s  Adult-In Home Care supervisor, Jeff Nunham.

My son, who is 30 years my junior and a successful business man, will sometimes say to me; “ You had better be good to me because I’m the one who is going to decide which Old Folks Home you’re going to live in.” We laugh about this and I try to say something about inheritance which always comes off very lame. However, this issue is actually a very difficult time of life for the aging parent and the supportive adult child. It is especially difficult when the aging parent is in denial about their failing abilities and their vulnerability for falling.

Helping Reluctant Seniors Acknowledge Their Need for Help

Gratefully, my mother (86) is in pretty good health and emphatically tells me that she will never be cared for by her children. Instead she will take herself to the retirement center of her own choosing. Whew! That was easy. However, getting someone to acknowledge that they need help can be a daunting task.
I like that saying ” denial is not a river in Egypt” it makes me think of my friend and neighbor Frank. He is showing very obvious signs of dementia which are making his life difficult. The simple tasks of everyday life are now impossible. From his perspective, every appliance he owns is broken. When he complains and I take a look at the broken appliance, I discover that he simply doesn’t know how to turn it on or set the timer or push the “send” on his phone. I recently stopped by the house and found him extremely frustrated with his cell phone. He complained that it was broken so that he could not make a call. When I asked him to let me see if I could get it to work, he handed me the remote control for his TV.
From my perspective, Frank’s most menacing problem is not dementia; it is denial. Frank is convinced that there is nothing wrong with him except some signs of aging in his hips. My greatest challenge with my friend is convincing him that he needs help and that he should be thinking about medical care and the possibility of assisted living. He will hear nothing of it. So, what does one do with a person who refuses to admit that there is a problem?

Two Strategies for Helping Reluctant Seniors

The tack my wife and I have taken is very simple and two fold. First, we are readily offering and giving assistance to Frank, but we also make sure that he understands the failures he is having. We look for times to gently, but firmly, present the realities of his confusion and other struggles. Our suggestions that he should see his doctor are rebuffed. However, over time and after “layer upon layer” of helping him see his condition for what it truly is, he is beginning to acknowledge that he has a need.
The second aspect of our attempts to help Frank is a little scarier. We have come to see that for the person who is adamantly refusing to acknowledge his need, the best form of meaningful communication are the consequences of his condition. This may mean letting him feel the frustration of not being able to do those simple tasks which once were done without thought. We do not “rush in to rescue” Frank from his struggles. When he is forced to face the reality of his struggle, he will begin to acknowledge that there is a problem.
I am happy to say that Frank has just recently consented to having an MRI and will be having an evaluation by a Psychiatrist in a couple of weeks. We believe that Frank will benefit from the treatment of his doctor. For my wife and me, we will continue to lovingly help Frank navigate the murky waters of dementia; hopefully without getting caught in the Egyptian Eddies of Denial.
For more help in navigating the murky waters of Dementia, visit this helpful website

To learn more about Helping Hands Respite Care’s Adult In-Home Care, contact Supervisor Jeff Nunham at 517.372.6671×105 or Jeff@HelpingHands, his office hours are Monday – Friday 8am to 3pm.