How Do I Get My Loved One to Accept Help?

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on April 26, 2014
3 min read

When you notice that your loved one starts to need help, it may be hard to get them to understand and accept it. Cathy Alessi, MD, president of the American Geriatrics Society, offers these tips.

As people get older, some are willing to accept help and some are not. When I see patients who are not doing well at home and I think they need some help, yet they are resistant to it, I try to understand what they are concerned about -- and what are they afraid it might mean if they accept help. Once you understand what they're afraid of, it can be easier to figure out how to help them.

Sometimes it's because they have confusion, memory loss, or other problems, and the resistance is part of that illness. Other times, we may be underestimating their ability to help themselves. Or maybe they do need help, but they're concerned about what that might mean in terms of loss of independence. An older person may think that accepting help means they're on the pathway of not being able to stay at home, when in fact getting help may help them stay at home longer.

I think it’s important to respect your loved one's opinions. Remind them that you appreciate the help they have given to you in the past, and now you are able to repay that debt and help them in this time in their lives.

People generally want to maintain their independence and have a strong desire to participate in decisions about their lives. It’s important to appreciate that concern. However, it can be more difficult if the older person has dementia or other signs of decline. In this situation, try to make the best decisions possible in keeping with how they lived their life and your understanding of what's important to them.

It's an issue of degrees. If the home situation is unsafe, then ensure safety issues are addressed. Examples include monitoring health conditions carefully, making sure medications are being taken correctly, or problems with safety, like using the stove. If the safety concern is urgent, it needs to be addressed quickly. But if it’s not, sometimes you can ease the older person into accepting the help they need.

Everyone is different, but what I've seen work is approach the older person with gratitude. "You've done this for me. Now let me do this for you. You're not a burden. I enjoy being able to help you." Many caregivers get satisfaction in being able to offer care, and when they express that satisfaction, it seems to help.

Do as much as possible to make sure that her wishes are met. That's one aspect of maintaining dignity, being able to keep a sense of control of her life. Remember that people respond well to being treated well, and we all have a basic need to be respected.