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Help For Dealing With Your Stubborn Aging Parents

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Get help for dealing with a stubborn elderly parent.

So, how do you deal with stubborn aging parents? – Realize and accept the fact that your parents are not trying to hurt you. Try to understand why they are being stubborn and difficult. Treat them as the adults that they are with full responsibility for their own actions.

Taking care of stubborn elderly parents can present many difficult situations and it can easily put too much strain on many adult children.

Learning how to deal with old parents and constant power struggles can be exhausting and frustrating.

But, if your elderly parent is acting like a child, if your elderly mother is mean and gives you a difficult time at every turn, if you are dealing with elderly parents who refuse help, well, such situations as this can make the caregiving process even harder.

The bottom line is that if your old parents are of sound mind, then the decisions they make and the consequences of those decisions are their own.

All you can do is help to guide them but you have to realize that you can’t force them.

Aging parents may respond to advice or help with daily problems from their grown children by insisting, resisting, or persisting in their ways or opinions, behaviors which are commonly viewed as stubbornness.

National Center for Biotechnology Information

Of course – I understand that this doesn’t help when it’s YOU that ends up having to bail them out of whatever situation they ended up in because of their stubbornness.

Nor does it help if you find yourself in a daily power struggle over situations that should be easy to manage.

I’m here to tell you that dealing with demanding elderly parents is more of a common problem among family caregivers than you may realize.

The best solution that I can give you on how to deal with aging parents who are hardheaded is to use all the resources available to you so that you are not the only caregiver. And of course, seek out respite care to help!

Spreading the responsibilities of caring for an elderly person amongst a group of people such as friends, family and maybe even a professional caregiver will make the lives of everyone involved much easier.

The important thing to know is that their behavior is not meant to hurt you (at least most of the time). So, don’t take it personally.

Read Our Article On Coping With Aging Parents Who Behave Badly

Why Are Seniors So Stubborn?

Why do old people get mean? Generally, most older people don’t want to admit that they’re getting old. They may also be afraid of the stigma associated with aging, such as slowing down and becoming more physically and mentally vulnerable.

Seniors just want to maintain their independence and manage their own lives for as long as possible.

They don’t know how to deal with aging and the loss of control that often comes with that.

It’s not uncommon for older adults to resist trying new things or taking risks.

This can have a negative impact on their social life because it limits how much they interact with their grown children (who may start to ignore them) and other people and prevents them from making new friends.

It can also lead to loneliness which is linked with an increased risk of depression and even early death in some cases!

There is robust evidence that social isolation and loneliness significantly increase risk for premature mortality, and the magnitude of the risk exceeds that of many leading health indicators…

American Psychological Association

As an Occupational Therapist, my specialty was dealing with the elderly after they had suffered a severe illness or injury.

I often worked with the families to get as much information about my patient as possible. I wanted to know what that person was like before they became ill or suffered their injury.

What I saw often is that the illness or injury tended to exaggerate the person’s personality traits. What I saw were things like…

  • If they used to be very independent, then they most likely were going to be very controlling and demanding now.
  • If they used to have little patience with others and themselves, well they were going to probably be very angry and inpatient now.
  • If they used to be very sweet and kind to others, those traits tended to be more exaggerated now.

I coined this the “more so disease”. However they were when they were younger, they’re only “more so” now.

Of course, this was not the case for every individual, but it certainly was what I saw in the majority of my patients’ cases.

So, what I’m trying to say here is that what you may see as “a stubborn old man” or an annoying old person is not actually that.

It may just be that your senior parent is frightened and scared of losing the control that they once had and were so fiercely protective of.

Research out of Penn State University, the New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging and the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, found that 77% of adult children believe their parents are stubborn about taking their advice or getting help with daily problems.

Rose View Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

In addition to the “more so disease” is the probability that you and your parents have two different sets of goals.

For example, your parents have the goal of maintaining their independence. But your goal is to try to keep them safe.

Dr. Allison Heid, a gerontologist with Rowan University and Penn State University conducted a study that was published in the Journals of Gerontology where she found this discrepancy in goals as a source of difficulties between elderly parents and their adult children.

In the study, Dr. Heid explains that parents’ goals may be to remain independent and maintain their autonomy. They may do so by refusing assistance, continuing to drive when they probably shouldn’t, or refusing to alter their living arrangements. Adult children’s goals may be to keep their parents safe by restricting their driving, providing them with assistance, and encouraging them to consider other living arrangements that the children deem more appropriate or safer than the current living situations. These differing goals may create discord in the family due to the change in the balance of power that is taking place.

But – whatever you want to call it or whatever the reason is – the situation is still the same.

The caregiver has to learn the best way of how to deal with elderly parents who seemingly will not listen to reason and often will not accept a helping hand.

Any caregiver will naturally begin losing patience with their elderly parent.

Believe me, I understand. My mother was fiercely independent and she rarely ever admitted that she was wrong or difficult about anything.

Taking care of her as she aged was so hard that my siblings and I just came to the conclusion that this was God’s way of making it much easier for us to accept her death when it happened.

I know, that sounds harsh but if you are dealing with an aging parent who presents as persistently rigid and uncooperative, then I think you probably know what I mean and the situation we were in.

Unfortunately, in some cases, the signs of aging can include abusive behavior. This is especially true if a senior has an underlying mental health condition such as dementia or Alzheimer’s and begins to suffer from memory loss.

It is important to remember that no matter how badly someone behaves due to their illness or age, they are still an individual with feelings and emotions.

Read more about how to deal with abusive elderly adults.

What Do You Do When Elderly Parents Refuse To Listen?

When it comes to aging parents, there are many things that can be difficult about the process.

One of the most complicated aspects is when an elderly parent refuses to listen and use what is common sense to you with regards to their safety.

Read our article on What To Do When Elderly Parent Refuses To Move

After all, it seems that your advice just falls on deaf ears and it seems that it’s been that way for a very long time.

As I said earlier – I can give you 3 tips on how to deal with stubborn behavior from older adults who refuse to listen.

These are what my siblings and I learned from our own experience in dealing with our own elderly parent refusing help of any kind.

Tips On How to Deal With Irrational Elderly Parents

These techniques on how to deal with parents who don’t listen may help you through the difficult caregiving tasks that lay ahead of you.

1) Check Their Medical Condition

Not all stubbornness is due to personality changes that come with old age.

If their medical care and prescription medicines have changed recently and you are noticing that it seems to be affecting their abilities to communicate and/or to control their emotions – the problem may be the medication they are now on.

Perhaps you noticed that last night they became angry and less patient than normal.

If you notice a pattern of this happening either at all times or at certain times of the day, it would be a very good idea to speak to your doctor about this right away.

Ask yourself these important questions:

  • Are they caring for themselves like they used to or is there a noticeable change?
  • Are they becoming more reclusive – not visiting friends or participating in activities like they used to?
  • Are they losing weight or seem to be more tired than usual?
  • Do you notice any changes in their physical appearance, bowel habits, etc?

All of these questions (and more) may help you to determine that something medically is happening and it’s time to seek some medical help from your physician.

2) Realize And Accept The Fact That Your Parents Are Not Trying To Hurt You

Although it may seem to you that your stubborn parents are deliberately doing all they can to make your life miserable – that truly is not the case (at least in most cases). 

I do believe that for most elderly adults who are stubborn, their issues could be due to any of the following multiple reasons.

  • they may be angry that they have lost some independence
  • they may be upset that their life has not turned out as they had hoped for (regrets)
  • they may just be the way they have always been only now, that you are caring for them, it’s more evident
  • there may be some cognitive impairment causing these difficult behaviors

3) Try To Understand Why They Are Being Stubborn And Difficult

Listening to your aging parents (even though they may not be listening to you) is a very important part of dealing with inflexible and willful people, whether they are elderly or not.

By listening to their fears, desires and needs you may be in a better position to find an alternative way to speak to them and reason with them.

For example: It may be that they DO understand that it would be better if they moved to an assisted living community BUT they are fearful of the change and simply won’t admit it.

By helping them through this fear you can help them (and yourself) to get through this without getting angry with each other.

You also have to realize that many important issues surrounding matters having to do with aging are emotional.

…people are not rational about many things, especially when it’s an issue that stirs up certain emotions in them. And issues that touch on aspects of our identity, self-worth and autonomy – all of which come up when we’re concerned about older parents — are especially prone to trigger emotional responses.

Dr. Leslie Kernisan on

As Dr. Kernisan goes on to say in her article…

You may need to invite your parent to share his or her feelings by saying something like, “I really care about you, and I’d like to make sure I understand more about what you’ve been feeling about this situation.” If you can afford it, consider investing in a few sessions with a relationship therapist or another person trained to facilitate family conversations.

The bottom line is to do your best to put your own emotions aside and focus on the needs of your elderly parent.

4) Treat them as the adults that they are with full responsibility for their own actions. 

When all is said and done, your parents are adults.  That means that this is their life, their decisions and their consequences.

I know, I know – their consequences will most likely impact YOUR life.  I get it.  Believe me, I get it.

As I said earlier, my mother was extremely independent and stubborn (she always was) and yes, her decisions did eventually impact us in negative ways. 

It was a hard pill for US to swallow but we just came to conclusion that no one can control every aspect of another person’s life. 

We did our best to care for our mother because we loved her – and that was that.

BUT – we did not shy away from discussing with her the impact that her decisions had on us. 

We tried to be very careful about not blaming her, we just wanted her to try to see the situations from different perspectives – especially when it came to a safety concern.

It worked – sometimes.

How Do You Deal With Stubborn Elderly With Dementia?

You know, sometimes when dementia gets worse, a history of abusive behavior starts to show up more. And in other situations, it’s a mental health issue that causes that abusive behavior towards family and caregivers.

Dementia is a progressive, degenerative disease that causes significant cognitive decline as well as physical impairment.

Elderly people are more susceptible to developing dementia because of their age and diminishing physical condition.

If your parent with dementia refuses help, please know that this is not unusual at all.

It is common for elders with dementia to experience mood swings, memory loss, hallucinations, delusions or paranoia.

These can make them difficult patients for caregivers as they may refuse food or medication and become combative or agitated.

For spiritual support, read our article, Bible Verses For Caregivers (Scriptures For Encouragement).

Medical problems that can cause dementia or the onset of Alzheimer’s can cause personality changes and behaviors to become exacerbated (as I mentioned earlier with my theory on the “more so disease”).

This can then end up presenting itself as stubborn behavior by your elderly parent.

If your senior parent suffers from dementia AND they are presenting as stubborn – the best advice that I can give you is that you have to accept the fact that it’s YOU who has to make changes in how you approach caregiving.

In other words, you cannot expect your parents to change back to what they were last year or even a few months ago.

At this point, they are most likely incapable of doing that.

Of course, it’s extremely important to speak to medical professionals (i.e. your doctor and/or therapist) about this problem.

Read our article on How To Talk To A Parent With Dementia for more information.

So, what do I mean by you changing?

  • Use proper nouns when speaking with them. In other words, make it perfectly clear what you are talking about. So, even though you are in the midst of a conversation about red shoes, don’t use words like “them” – instead keep using the phrase “red shoes” as you speak. I know it is an odd way to talk but in my experience, this reduces the chances of the senior person getting agitated because they don’t understand what you are talking about.
  • Communicate assertively. Try to avoid passive or aggressive communication styles – instead use assertive communication which means that you express your needs and wants and at the same time respect the needs and wants of your senior loved one.
  • Ask one question at a time. Keep your conversations simple and easy to follow. BUT – don’t speak to them as if they are children. This is a fine line to walk, I know. Don’t use “baby talk” and don’t talk down to your parents. Just keep any questions and statements simple. You can go a long way in improving communications with your elderly parent by keeping talk very simple.
  • Don’t offer too many choices. At the most, offer two choices. “Would you like a sandwich or soup for lunch?” It’s less for them to think about and process but yet still gives them the opportunity to express their independence in making a choice.
  • Keep the environmental stimulation down. An overactive environment can cause a lot of stress and agitation which in turn can make your parent seem uncooperative and stubborn. So, having the TV on while your children are playing in the same room and you talking on the phone to someone, is not one of the best places for someone with dementia to be in.
  • Avoid the fights. My older sister had a difficult time with this. She would take the bait our mother laid out for her and an argument would then ensue. Sometimes with one or both of them storming off. My approach was to remain calm and if my mother began yelling that the lettuce I bought at the store was not good, then I would just say something like “Oh, next time I’ll try to do better.” (Of course – my sister had spent years helping my mother so I do completely understand her frustration!)
  • Be patient. This probably goes without saying but it’s very important that you understand that if your parent has dementia, they are not in full control of what they say and/or do. So, be patient and be forgiving of their words and actions.
  • Listen to what your aging parent is saying. Dementia sometimes has a way of making someone who suffers from it very introspective. If they begin talking about their mother or father then engage them in that conversation. Ask simple questions like “Was your mother a good cook?” or “Did your father like his job?
  • Indulge them in THEIR conversation. If your elderly parent does begin speaking about friends and relatives who have since passed away – spending some time with them with a photo album and going over the memories of all these people may be a very good thing to do at that time.
  • Avoid agitating situations. Get to know what specific situations bring about a bad behavior. When caring for my mother I noticed that she was always worse after watching the nightly news. I assumed that what she saw and heard on TV scared her and annoyed her (who isn’t annoyed with the news these days?). So, we began watching movies during that time and her demeanor was better.
  • Be as flexible as you can. Of course, if your parent has a doctors appointment, there’s not much flexibility there – you have to go. But if you had planned to go to the grocery store and your parent is “in a mood” and is refusing to dress or go outside, then change your plans. Or better yet, begin making plans with someone to come to the house every week so that you can go grocery shopping that day.
  • Break down tasks to smaller components. If your elderly parent gives you a difficult time to dress in the morning – it may be useful to break down the task to smaller tasks. So, an example would be to put on socks and shoes. Then you could have breakfast. Then afterwards, change from their nightgown to a dress or maybe just change their top and leave their pajama bottoms on and change that later.& It’s a longer way of accomplishing the goal but if it reduces the agitation in your parent, it’s worth it.
  • Calming music helps. My mother loved Italian operas and that seemed to almost always put her in a good mood. When it came time to doing something she didn’t really want to do like shower or take her medication – putting that music on for about 30 minutes before the task seemed to help a lot.
  • Support groups for caregivers. The one thing that almost ALL caregivers do is neglect their own health and their own well being. It’s so important to find some way to release your negative emotions. So, I strongly urge you to avoid that trap. Try journaling about your feelings. Seek help from a support group in your area – you won’t regret it. You’ll need them more and more as your parents age.

At the end of the day, what’s really important in dealing with elderly adults who are suffering from dementia is to acknowledge the fact that sometimes what seems like uncooperative behavior is really YOU forcing them to do something they aren’t willing to do or don’t understand how to do.

You know, most any therapist (Physical, Occupational and Speech) will tell you that when it comes to working with patients in rehabilitation that at least 50% of the job is also working with the family and caregivers.

It seems that rehabilitation is truly for everyone involved!

How To Get Elderly Parents To Accept Help

It’s a tough balancing act to take care of elderly parents while also holding down your own job.

It’s not always easy to find time for everything, and you may worry that asking them to accept help will only make things worse.

But there are ways you can get elderly parents to accept help without feeling like they’re losing control over their independence or dignity.

Note: You may be interested in our article on What To Do When An Elderly Parent Refuses Medical Treatment

How did my siblings and I deal with our difficult elderly mother who oftentimes refused help from anyone?

Here are some tips on how to help elderly parents who don’t want help.

The 4 strategies we used in our family was:

  1. We laid down the groundwork early on by talking with each other (and our mother) about options that we could use as our mother grew older.
  2. We included our mother in as many discussions and decision making processes as we could. Giving her a sense of complete control over her daily tasks.
  3. We went with her to any new doctor, therapy, activity, etc. to help ease her fear of doing something new.
  4. We accepted the fact that what we could not change her and ultimately it was her decision, her life.

I wrote some more details on these 4 strategies in my article What To Do When Your Elderly Parent Refuses Help.

Some additional tips that I can give you on how to get elderly parents to accept help are…

  • Stay calm – don’t argue with them if they are refusing your help. Again, it’s not in your control. If they are of sound mind and in fairly good health then it’s definitely not in your control. They are adults and you have to treat them as such. Even if you believe that are not making the right choice in a certain situation.
  • Be pragmatic – do your best to keep emotions out of it.  If they refuse to get help to care for the home – then don’t fight them but do try to appeal to what is important to them.  For example: if your elderly mother likes a clean home – then present the idea that a housekeeper once a month could do a deep cleaning.
  • Listen to your parent(s) – Listen to your parent(s) – if you can understand WHY they are refusing help, you will be able to work with them. Are they frightened about moving into an assisted living facility? Are they scared about not being able to make their own decisions? Is accepting help a sign of weakness to them? Being angry and scared is a very common response to these types of situations. Sometimes, getting some professional help and using an outside counselor to help you talk it through with your parents can help. Social workers can help greatly in these situations.
  • Authority helps sometimes – some elderly adults will listen to an authority figure over their family members. So, having a doctor, nurse, social worker or even a geriatric care manager speak with your parent may help.
  • Do Not Blame Yourself – I mean it – do not beat yourself up and feel guilty for not being able to care for your parent(s) better.  You are doing the best you can in a difficult situation.  Accept that.  Help them as needed but know that they may not (probably won’t) listen to your advice so you will have to bail them out at times.  It’s just part of the process.

Let’s face it – getting older is not for the weak of heart.  It takes strength and courage to grow old and for many adults, it’s overwhelming and difficult.

So, if your parents appear stubborn and uncooperative, try to understand what is causing that. 

Are they just being “more so” of how they have always been?  Are they dealing with dementia or other cognitive problems?  Are they depressed or angry at their situation?

Knowing and understanding what the cause or causes may be will help you to accept your parents as they are.  Hopefully this will also help to give you some peace of mind and help you to realize you are doing all that you can.

This in turn can help to give them and you a wonderful quality of life. Then, you can simply do the best you can to care for them.

We all want that best-case scenario.

Some books that I can recommend for you on on how to help aging parents on this his topic are:

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