Why Seniors Refuse Help

Why Seniors Refuse Help


A 2011 study found that 20.7% of adults aged 85 or older, 7% aged 75 to 84, and 3.4% of those aged 65 to 74 needed help with ADLs (Activity of daily living). This may contribute to the question of why seniors refuse help. The fact is that, as they age, seniors will need assistance in one way or the other. Yet, it is not uncommon for seniors to resist help from their adult children, family, or hired caregivers when it is clear they need it.  

On the other hand, the most challenging and perhaps frustrating part of caregiving is trying to assist a senior who stubbornly refuses to be helped. Such conflicts between seniors and their caregivers create a difficult situation especially if the senior’s health and safety are at risk. Often, seniors refuse help not because they are stubborn but because there is an underlying problem that triggers worry, fear, or anxiety in them. If not addressed, conflicts often graduate in outright resentment towards their caregivers.

Why do the elderly refuse help?

Lady Helping a Senior With CookingA study conducted by Michelle Barnhart, an Oregon University researcher, in 2013 involved seniors, their adult children, and hired caregivers. Michelle found that seniors do not necessarily refuse help, rather they are not comfortable when help is offered in a way that makes them feel ‘old.’ In the United States and other Western societies, the age stigma around old age is becoming all too common.

Old age has been associated with such attributes as loss of independence and control, confusion, frailty, forgetfulness, sickliness, lack of productivity, and many other negative traits. Therefore, when the elderly refuse help, it is because they have opted to protect how they feel even if this will be at the expense of their health and safety. Some will choose not to cooperate during open genuine conversations meant for their own good.   

Are you experiencing difficulty convincing your ageing parents to accept help? The following could be the reasons why the elderly refuse help.

The fear of losing their independence 

Right through their adulthood seniors get used to being in control and managing responsibilities. The thought of losing their identity/independence as responsible humans capable of managing things on their own can be scary for seniors. If not handled well, what follows is a constant effort to prove that they are capable and self-reliant which can be dangerous for them.  

Difficulty coming to terms with role reversal 

A time comes when a child becomes an adult. Suddenly his/her parent who was used to taking care of them all along is the one that is on the receiving end of care from the children. The roles have been swapped. The transition process can leave both senior parents and their children drained emotionally. For seniors, anything that changes their normal way of doing things may be met with resistance. Seniors will more often than not feel vulnerable when offered help.  

The desire to remain in control 

Seniors find comfort and feel empowered when they maintain their daily routines. Has your elderly parent been sleeping, rising up, or taking breakfast at certain times every day? Is there an outfit or other items that they are attached to? Do they have a specific place where their books or medication are stored? Is there a specific position overlooking the outside, that they like sitting in the living room?  

When maintained, these kinds of routines not only empower seniors but also make them feel in control just as they were when they were still young and youthful. Also, seniors tend to be overcautious when they suspect that their privacy will be violated.   

They do not want to be a burden  

Transitioning from caring for others to being cared for is never an easy process for seniors. They may feel like they are losing their independence and struggling with role reversal. Also, they often find themselves struggling with the feeling of being needy and a burden to their children who care for them. A study done by the Alzheimer’s Association found that 70% of seniors worry about being a burden to their children more than moving into a nursing home or passing away.  

They struggle with trust  

With the many changes that seniors go through, growing old in itself is a challenge. It is almost natural for seniors to resist the changes that come with aging. In circumstances where seniors are mourning their loved ones and dealing with new caregivers instead, it takes seniors time to get used to receiving help. Further, seniors refuse help as a way of dealing with the uncertainties of their future in new relationships.

Tactics that seniors use to resist help

Young Man Helping an Elder Man Get Out of a Car Seniors apply various tactics in resisting help. This can be reflected in the following behaviors:  

Hiding activities

Some seniors will avoid arguing with their caregivers at all costs. Instead, they may pretend to have stopped engaging in restricted activities and instead continue doing them secretly. For instance, it may take some time for seniors to stop driving or eating an unhealthy diet as these activities give them a sense of independence.  

Arguing and trying to prove themselves

Seniors hate to be challenged for things that they feel they know, even where their health and safety are at stake. Getting worried or concerned about seniors’ safety, health, or ability causes them to want to prove that they are not as old or incapable as they seem to be. Arguing is one of the tactics they use.  


When professionals or caregivers bypass seniors to address issues with their loved ones, seniors may react by resisting their loved ones. Such situations make seniors feel like their being treated like children. As a result of exclusion, seniors may start behaving childishly or express utter resentment toward their loved ones to get direct attention. 

Constantly trying to prove others wrong

According to research, older people are less likely to realize that they make a mistake compared to younger people. Some seniors find it hard to apologize and admitting a mistake hurts their ego. Such people usually have deep-seated psychological issues that affect their esteem. They are often irritable and argue to win so as not to bring themselves to make an apology. In addition, such seniors often feel that they are too experienced in life’s issues to make mistakes.  

Isolation from loved ones

To avoid being assisted, some seniors will distance themselves from their loved ones who have taken up the responsibility of helping them. This is to try and get them out of the way for the seniors to do things their way or try to prove their self-reliance.   

What to do when elderly parents refuse help

Caregiver Helping a Senior Man Get up from a Chair The feeling of being unable to support themselves with activities of daily living and other things can be emotionally overwhelming for seniors. They may react to this by being in denial and refusing help but the truth is that seniors do need help.  

Here is what to do when elderly parents refuse help:  

Take time to listen to and understand the needs of a senior 

Whilst adult children and caregivers may have the best interest of the senior at heart to want to assist them, they should be sensitive to the fact that seniors have their wishes. If they still have the capacity to make decisions and do some activities on their own, the caregiver should support them to be as independent as they would want to be. It starts with having a genuine conversation with them and establishing the best way to help them that is comfortable for both parties. Never forget your place as a helper. You are not coming in to take over.  

Weigh the situation  

Take time to observe your seniors and establish where or what exactly it is that they need help with. With time, you will know them enough to understand their capabilities, struggles, perceptions, and most importantly what they feel defines their identity. This way, you can work out the best assistance program for them without intruding on their independence.  

Have good communication

Effective communication with the elderly does not only prevent conflicts but also strengthens relationships and creates a conducive environment for genuine conversations. Adult children and caregivers should find smart ways of offering help to seniors without telling them about their incapacity straight to the face. Avoid expressly restraining them from engaging in activities they were once used to such as driving. Instead, politely emphasize the benefits of stopping such activities, for instance, you wish to have them enjoy the ride and keep their independence.  

Get to the depths of their behavior  

There is always a motivation behind every resistance to help. Seek to understand the reason for your senior’s refusal to be helped. Perhaps they are struggling with the transition process or are affected emotionally by sudden changes in their lives. It can also be that they can’t put up with role reversal, or fear the stigma that comes with aging and losing their independence. You may consider seeking professional advice on the best approach to help them cope with the transition process.  

Just let them have it their way at times

Not all situations require your intervention. Sometimes, if the matter is not crucial, just allow your parents to have it their way. However, if a matter is a risk to their safety, health, and well-being, give a firm loving ‘no’ for an answer if it is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, find a way of resolving conflicts in a way that benefits both parties.  

Ask for their advice  

Sometimes all you need to do to resolve conflicts is simply find out from the senior in which way they prefer to be helped. Maybe all they need is some achievable level of autonomy and they will be good. Other times, they may be more open to receiving help after a difficult experience doing things on their own. The bottom line is to make them understand how much you value them and that every effort you are making to help them is for their own good.  

How to help an elderly person who refuses help

Young Woman Helping a Senior Lady with her Cellphone As we have seen, there are many reasons why a senior may stubbornly refuse help. Including all the reasons that have been listed above, your senior may be suffering from signs of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia condition. These may include:  

  • Mental decline 
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Aggressive behavior  
  • Irritable mood  
  • Anger and apathy  
  • Delusion  
  • General discontentment  

Seniors exhibiting symptoms of depression, Alzheimer’s or other diseases may not understand the benefit of being helped. If you suspect that the transition process is taking a toll on your senior loved one for whatever reason, here are guidelines on how to help an elderly person who refuses help.  

Prepare for a conversation with your loved one 

Before you talk about refusing help, first get to understand the reason behind your elderly refusing help. This way, the options you will come up with will be the most appropriate to address their concerns. As you initiate, allow them to drive the conversation by asking questions, showing empathy, and compassion. Also, try to understand their concerns. This does not only break the ice, it helps them to trust you with their issues as well.  

Be on the lookout for early signs of depression or mental decline and take it up with the doctor immediately.  If they fear losing their independence to caregivers, having a conversation about the benefits of in-home care, maintaining their autonomy, and the value you have for them can help calm them down. For some, companionship care may come in handy.  

In case you have opted to hire a professional caregiver, take time to help build the relationship between the caregiver and your senior loved one. Also, do not distance yourself. It is important that you are present to coordinate care.  

Work on building a strong bond  

Some seniors already have a negative perception about getting assistance. This may reflect through resentment, aggression, withdrawing from loved ones, or withholding important information to resist help. Also, they might make every effort to prove that they are still capable of doing things on their own. In this case, the best approach is to work on strengthening your relationship with them.

Make sure to restore trust and help them understand that the help is for their safety and wellbeing. You can gradually introduce the topic of care and try to reassure them that their wishes will be respected. Also, consider extending compassion and respect to them.  

Provide options to encourage their involvement  

Giving seniors limited options will only make them feel like they have lost control. Providing options to seniors is a good approach as it lets them know that you respect their preferences and choices. This also helps them be a part of decision-making matters. Involve them in planning appointments, activities they should be assisted with, and other activities.  

Ultimately, their willingness is an indication that you have won them over and this creates a good environment for extending help. Remember that in order to provide options, you will have taken time to understand the needs and desires of your parents even before they can communicate them to you.  

Engage a trusted third party  

Sometimes it becomes extremely difficult to offer your senior loved one help. At the time, building rapport to earn trust may not be practical due to time limitations. Also, parents may not be readily willing to reverse roles with their adult children as they (parents) hang on to authority.  

In such cases, consider inviting someone else whom they trust to talk to them about the importance of being helped to enjoy a happier independent life without risks of falls, injuries, or other health and safety hazards. This may include additional support from social figures in the community like the church clergy, friends, older members in the community, and others.     

Enlist professional care services  

It is possible to fail to get your loved one to accept help even after employing different tactics. Consider enlisting the services of a professional caregiver. Alternatively, seek out the services of a professional such as social workers, physicians, or counselors who can convince them about the benefits of being helped and provide answers to the questions that the seniors have.  

Professional support may well turn out to be just what they need. There are government and private care programs in the United States that offer the following services to seniors: 

  • Healthcare services such as Medicare, Medicaid, and AoA (Administration on Aging)  
  • Home care services from home health care nurses  
  • Companionship  
  • Financial assistance  
  • Accommodation 

Why should we help the elderly?

According to the National Center for Health Services study, approximately one in every seven seniors aged 75 years and above need help with activities of daily living such as shopping, house cleaning and maintenance, meal preparation, medication management, financial assistance, and others. There is no doubt that as they age, seniors will need help in one way or the other. Sadly, up to 45% of community-dwelling Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 to 74 needed help with ADLs, IADLs, or those with signs of the onset of dementia reported not getting the assistance that they required.  

Old age is one of the most delicate stages of life where individuals experience several changes in their life. During this time, seniors experience a slowdown in their physical, mental, and emotional capacities. They then become more independent of others for care and help with certain activities. For this reason, if you have been asking “why should we help the elderly?”  

Here are reasons why seniors need quality care, comfort, and support:  

  • To live quality healthy and fulfilling lives all through their sunset years. 
  • To have a sense of belonging. 
  • To maintain family bonds. 
  • They are more at risk of injury, illnesses, and falls. 

What is Seniors Helping Seniors?

Senios Helping Seniors ProgramWhat if your parent refuses your help as well as that of a hired caregiver? Much as this is likely to happen under certain circumstances, not many adult children know what to do when elderly parents refuse outside help. 

Seniors Helping Seniors began as a company in 1998 in Pennsylvania by its founders, Kiran and Philip Yocom, They realized the need to connect seniors with the help and resources that they needed as they age. This company’s principle is to give seniors care services from fellow seniors for mutual benefit and fulfillment. It has been found that seniors accept help more easily when help is offered from fellow seniors as they can relate better at a personal level. On the other hand, seniors providing care also get the opportunity to earn income during their golden years.  

How much does ‘Seniors Helping Seniors’ cost?  

These offices offer the same sets of care services for seniors at fair rates. Services are priced on an hourly basis making them not just affordable but also flexible. Senior caregivers receive extensive training and go through thorough background checks before being allowed to offer caregiving services. Seniors Helping Seniors services will cost between $25 and $30 per hour depending on the service being offered, location, and other factors.  

The following services are offered by Seniors Helping Seniors  

  • Companionship care  
  • Meal planning and preparation  
  • Feeding  
  • Hygiene and personals care  
  • Toileting  
  • Medication management  
  • Light housekeeping duties  
  • Light handyman and repair services  
  • Transportation  
  • Shopping  
  • Errands  
  • Yardwork  
  • Pet care  
  • Home maintenance and supervision  
  • Respite care for caregivers and family  
  • 24-hour care and overnight stays  
  • Specialized care for Alzheimer’s and dementia  
  • Home safety assessments  
  • Long distance check-ins 


A significant percentage of American seniors are taken care of by their adult children, siblings, or other family members. These informal caregivers end up shouldering other responsibilities like making major life decisions on their behalf. The thought of role reversal almost never sits well with most seniors.  

Nevertheless, seniors still do need help and the challenge is to get them to accept help for their own safety, health, and well-being. Seniors need to experience a sense of belonging and compassion. No senior wants to feel like a burden to their children. On the other hand, adult children should learn to respect, empathize with, and understand their parents’ needs. Being able to have meaningful conversations with their senior loved ones, involve them in decision-making, and respect their choices, is something that many seniors value. When this is achieved, it becomes easier to overcome the problem of why seniors refuse help.

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