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What To Do When Elderly Parents Won’t Listen

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You know that your senior mother or father is the parent and you’re the adult child, but that doesn’t mean they always have to ignore what you say. Sometimes talking to your stubborn parents is like having a conversation with a brick wall. You want to get through to your mom or dad, but how?

If your elderly parents show some signs of cognitive decline (memory loss, difficulty reasoning or solving even simple problems) then it’s time to be more cautious.

This is especially true for any parent with a history of mental health issues like depression and anxiety, as well as seniors who have just recently lost another family member.

But if you feel that your parents are just being stubborn and refuse to listen to reason, then here are some tips:

  • Understand why they don’t want to listen
  • Pick the right time to talk about things
  • Remind your senior parents that you have their best interests at heart
  • Avoid talking down to them or treating them like a child
  • Don’t make mountains out of every molehill, only the important stuff
  • Know when to walk away and try again later
  • Recruit friends, relatives and/or professionals to help.

In this post, we’ll help you better understand why an aging parent may tune you out and effective ways to finally get them to listen. Even if the older adults in your life think they don’t need help or just don’t want it, we’ll provide tips for how and when you can step in.

How To Get Elderly Parents To Accept Help

What if you try to broach a difficult subject with your older parent(s) and they’re not open to talking? What is the best course of action if they insist they don’t need your help or anybody else’s?

It can be difficult to deal with elderly parents who refuse to listen, especially when they are used to being self-sufficient adults.

Understand Their Fears

It might be helpful if you try to understand why your parent is giving you a hard time. More often than not, an elderly parent won’t listen because of fear – they are afraid of how their own lives are changing.

They may be worried about declining abilities or they are afraid of a loss of independence, or worse.

In many cases, they are likely worried about their medical conditions, their home, or they fear the other changes that may come as they continue to age.

Allowing them to perform as many daily tasks as they are capable of doing and giving them the autonomy they need to feel useful and productive is very important. It may be the best way to get through to them.

Pick The Right Time

This may be obvious, but no one can make important decisions when they are stressed or not feeling well. Family caregivers need to “read the room” so to speak.

I don’t recommend jumping and telling your parents they need to move to an assisted living facility or that you want someone to come in to provide home care for them when everyone is tired or angry.

Wait to have these difficult conversations until they are in a good mood, then try bringing up important issues.

Remind Them You Only Want The Best For Them

By touching on these fears and giving your elderly parent at least a modicum of control, you may make them more willing to see your point of view and accept help.

If that doesn’t work, try reminding them of why you’re offering them help in the first place. I’m sure you only have the best intentions and are simply worried about your parent’s safety or their physical challenges

Let them know that it isn’t just you who is concerned – everyone who cares about them only wants to see them happy and healthy. It can be helpful to name some of those people, such as your siblings, their grandchildren or other family members, and friends.

Speaking of family, in the long run, you may have to relinquish control and let a sibling of yours take over.

It’s not always easy to accept that your elderly parents would rather listen to your brother or sister than you, but at the end of the day, it’s not about who your parents accept help from. It’s most important that they accept the help.

Don’t Talk Down To Them

Talking down to someone will never get you anywhere. Belittling your parent or acting like you are superior (or bossing them around) is only going to lead to power struggles.

This role reversal will likely make them more stubborn and reluctant to do what you are asking. Instead, be respectful.

Use a normal rhythm of speaking and a similar tone of voice that you would use when talking with friends.

For example: after my mother was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, my sister began talking to her in a sing-songy voice like you would for a two-year old. I’m not sure she was even aware that she was doing it, but it drove my father crazy.

When she offered to help with my mom, he would often turn her down simply because he didn’t want her to treat my mother like a child.

We know a parent’s behavior can be frustrating sometimes, but you you should get more positive results when trying to persuade them like an equal.

Pick Your Battles

Don’t expect your parents to agree with everything you suggest or think should be done.

Giving concessions can help them feel like they still have some control and that you are on their side. If you are constantly on them about changing something or doing something you want them to do, your parents will stop “hearing” you and start ignoring you.

Unless it would be a safety issue for your parent to continue without your help or without doing what you are asking them to do, let it go. Save your arguments for the things that really matter, such as health concerns, the potential for injury, or something equally harmful.

Drop It

Like the Kenny Rogers song says, “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.” Sometimes you just have to give up and let older people make their own decisions for the time being.

If things get too heated, don’t let your own emotions get in the way. Shelve the topic for another day unless it would be dangerous for your parents if you let it go. Then, when things are calm and your parents are in a better mood, reintroduce the subject.

By then, they will have had time to reconsider and will hopefully be more agreeable to accepting help.

You may want your mantra to be “It is what it is.” Said another way, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Suzanne Modigliani, a Boston-based geriatric care manager with a social work background, points out, “They are adults with the right to make decisions — even poor ones.” While you might wish you could control your aging parents for their own good, the reality is you cannot force them to do anything. The first of the tips for aging parents is that accepting this fact can help reduce your stress and even improve your relationship with your parents.

Ask Friends, Family and/or Professionals For Help

If you feel like you’re at your wit’s end, it may be time to ask for help. Talk to other family members or friends about the situation and see if they have any ideas.

You could also seek out a professional, such as an elder care counselor, geriatric social worker or case manager. These professionals are usually well-versed in the situations of elderly parents and can help you come up with a plan to get your parents the care they need.

If your elderly parents are resistant to accepting help, it can be a very stressful and frustrating situation for everyone involved. However, it is important that you don’t simply let things go and hope that they will eventually come around.

Seek out help and support so that you can better deal with the situation and ensure that your parents are getting the care they need.

Setting Boundaries With Difficult Elderly Parents

One of the hardest things to do is to say no to your elderly parents because…well, they’re your parents. However, if they’re especially demanding and difficult each time you approve of unreasonable requests, you’re just setting a precedent that if your elderly parents ask for something, they can get whatever they want from you.

I sound like I’m talking about a stubborn child, don’t I? But, seriously, sometimes a parent’s behavior can seem that way.

It’s crucial you set boundaries with your elderly parents, especially if their behavior is excessive. This is for your own sanity.

Also, if your parents have become borderline manipulative (which can happen due to memory loss and/or reacting to lack of control in life), you can stop that behavior in its tracks.

Try the following steps for setting boundaries:

Know When To Say No

First, setting boundaries involves knowing which situations necessitate you saying yes and which you should say no to.

The next time your elderly mother asks you to take her to the bingo hall on a Tuesday afternoon but you’re swamped with work, don’t say yes. However, if she has a doctor’s appointment and can’t get a ride from anyone else, then that is something you will want to help with.

Stick To Your Guns

If you’ve been a yes man or woman all this time, there’s a good chance your difficult elderly parent is going to be shocked when you tell them no. They might ask you several times if you really mean it, so you’ll have to repeat no a few times over.

Besides just telling your elderly parent that no, you can’t drop everything to take them to bingo, explain why. You might say something like “I’m really busy with work, so I can’t do this for you today” or “it’s okay if you skip one game of bingo every now and again.”

If you are willing to accommodate their request another day, you should say that. Just make sure you’re not acquiescing to every little whim your elderly parent has.

Let Yourself Feel Guilty, But Don’t Be Guilt-Tripped

When you leave your parent or hang up the phone, you’re going to be wracked with guilt. This is normal, and it’s okay to let yourself feel bad for a while.

That said, don’t linger too long on the feelings of guilt, and especially don’t let yourself be guilt-tripped by your senior parents.

For instance, when you say you won’t take your mom to bingo, she might sound sad and tell you how all her friends will be so disappointed not to see her. This is guilt-tripping, and you mustn’t fall for it.


The bottom line is that you are trying to protect your aging parents and avoid bad things like a car accident (if they should not be driving) from happening. Your parents’ safety, I’m sure, is your biggest concern.

You might feel guilty about some of the things you have to do to protect them, but don’t let that guilt turn into inaction. Do what you need to do to keep them safe, and know that you are not alone in this difficult task.

The most important thing to remember when dealing with elderly parents is that their quality of life is just as important as yours.

Do You Have Any Ideas For What To Do When Elderly Parents Won’t Listen?

Although it can catch adult children off guard, senior parents can be surprisingly stubborn. This is mostly due to fears about the changes in their lives and losing control.

By understanding why your parents feel the way they do, you might crack the code to getting them to listen to you. If not, then knowing when to let someone else try to help is important.

Have you had to deal with stubborn elderly parents? If so, please help our readers by sharing the best thing you have done to make your interactions easier!

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