Talking about care: Persuading parents to accept help

Nobody wants to have the conversation. The one where you talk to your elderly parents – the people who brought you up and looked after you as a child – about their growing need for support in their home. The idea that they may have to leave their home to live in an assisted living facility or care home is even more difficult to deal with.

However, the time may come when it is necessary, and you have to work out how to talk to your parents – or other elderly loved ones – about care. You cannot force them to do anything they don’t want to do. Still, you know that they are less able to cope, and may struggle with managing their health or their home without some help. It may be dangerous for your parents or relative to not have care support if they are at risk of falls, or are unable to cook food for themselves any more. And you are in a position where you need to communicate with them about that.

This article addresses how to talk to your parents about care and accepting help, and includes useful advice on:

  • How to prepare to the conversation
  • How to broach the subject
  • Selling points to encourage elderly parents to accept help
  • How to follow up
  • What to do if they refuse help
  • Where to find more information

Preparing for the conversation

Before having the conversations with your parents about care and getting help, you may want to do some research on the care options that are available to you.

Know what is available, and think of the pros and cons of each possibility. You may want a Care Professional to come in to your parents’ home to help with household tasks or personal care. Or you may consider having the conversation about assisted living or a care home, if at-home options are no longer viable. Read our blog post on the differences between care homes and care at home, for more information on this matter.

Each of these care options will have a different impact on your loved one’s life – keep that in mind when listing the pros and cons of home care, care homes and introductory services. Your parents may well have already given the matter some thought, just like you have, and may have better ideas than you about what would suit them best. It’s therefore a good idea to always keep an open mind when talking to your elderly relative about their care options.

Another positive tactic can be to involve other members of the family, as well as close friends. Discuss your worries with them: they may have had similar experiences themselves, and may be able to help you to source useful information. Plus, they may be able to offer an impartial point of view on the matter, being in certain cases less emotionally involved than you.

Broaching the subject of care with your parents

You are now ready to introduce the subject of care with your loved one. There are many things you should consider when thinking about how to talk to your ageing parents about planning for their future.

First of all, the environment in which the conversation takes place can have a big impact. Try to talk with your relative in person rather than over the phone, make sure everybody is sitting comfortably, and turn off distractions like the TV or radio.

Your attitude and tone are important factors too. When having this conversation with elderly parents, treat them like the adults that they are. Even when they are losing their memory to dementia, or are struggling with physical pain and disability, they have needs and desires, as well as a right to have a say in how their lives are run.

Therefore, remember this is a two-way conversation, not a monologue on your part. Ask your relative what they want, and take that into consideration rather than dismissing it out of hand, even if it does not match what you had imagined.

Explain your concerns slowly and clearly, and put yourself in your parents’ shoes as you talk. You want them to understand what you are saying and why you are saying it. Be reassuring when you can, and truly listen to what they have to say.

Don’t interrupt them when they respond, or contradict them unnecessarily. It may be an awkward and difficult conversation, especially if they are resistant to the idea of getting help, but taking it slowly and always listening respectfully will help.

Selling points

Personalised, high quality care can have a truly positive impact on your loved one’s life: it can empower them to keep their routine, pursue their life-long passions and hobbies, and preserve their independence.

These are some of the selling points you can touch on when talking to your parents about the benefits of getting care:

  1. “You’ll keep your independence”: One thing to bear in mind is that accepting care is not “giving in”. It does not mean that they will lose their independence. If anything, care enables them to preserve their independence and to stay in their home in a way that, without care, would not be manageable. Having support around the house and around their everyday tasks can even be liberating.
  2. “There will always be someone to help you in an emergency”: When you’re having the talk with elderly parents, be factual, for instance listing the times they have fallen or mentioning the time they left the stove on before bed. You don’t want to embarrass them, but you do need to stress why you believe assistance has become vital for them. Explain how a carer can help them feel safe in the knowledge that there’s always someone ready to help in case of an emergency.
  3. “An extra pair of hands can help you in your everyday life”: Some elderly people are intimidated by the prospect of somebody coming in to “look after” them, but are quite keen on the idea of help with some housekeeping. This is doable when somebody is well enough to live independently and doesn’t have a serious health or memory condition. It can then be built up over time, if needed.
  4. “Your friends have had good experiences with Care Professionals”: Your parents may well have friends in a similar position, some of whom will have accepted care support: it’s a good idea to mention the benefits those friends have experienced.
  5. “You’ll have a friendly face to chat with on a regular basis”: For many elderly people, having a chat with a young caregiver can be a breath of fresh air that really cheers up their day.

Following up

You may need to have this conversation twice or more, as important decisions have to be made. Involve your parent in every step of the process to find care, including choosing their own caregiver, if possible. This way, they’ll feel they’re in control of the situation, and they’ll be more willing to consider different options.

Some people find that introducing the idea gradually is the most effective approach. So, perhaps, start by saying how helpful it would be to have somebody come in to help them to prepare lunch every day, and build up to conversations about personal care at a later stage.

A trial period can be a really effective way of testing out home care. This often happens when family caregivers go on holiday for a week or two, and temporary professional care (often referred to as respite care) is put in place.

What to do if your elderly parents resist the idea of care

Talking to ageing parents about changes is not always straightforward, and sometimes they will refuse the idea of care support altogether. So, how can you get your elderly parents to accept help? If an elderly person refuses assisted living, a care home or at-home care support, ask them some questions about why. If you can understand their objections and anxieties, you may be able to provide reassurance or counter their arguments.

Explain to them that their condition is deteriorating, and that it is becoming dangerous for them to have no support. They may want to talk to their GP or practice nurse about their situation, and get their advice on whether they should be home alone, too. They may also want to get the opinions of other family members or friends; sometimes hearing the same thing from several people who all have your best interests at heart can be more convincing and reassuring.

Also, remember to give them some time to think. This is a very important decision, and your parents may take a little while longer to come to the same conclusion as you. After all, none of us like to admit that we are getting older.

Professional elderly care information and advice

You can get in touch with our local teams for an initial chat, or check out what we do for more information.