By Pam Gennings, Executive Director Special Projects*
On a professional level, I have talked to a number of families struggling because their elder loved one refuses needed help.
One day while visiting my elderly in-laws, I experienced what it is like to have a loved one refuse much needed help. My father-in-law was having some medical issues that needed to be addressed sooner than later. He did not know what all the fuss was about and did not want to call his doctor. My mother-in-law was at her wits’ end, she was very concerned, frustrated, angry and feeling very helpless, which are all common emotions when these types of situations occur. I thought about the suggestions I have given family members in similar situations, and knew that I had to put them in to practice.
- We needed to understand what my father-in-law’s concerns were, listen, reassure him and be respectful. Why was he resisting calling the doctor and seeking medical treatment? We could sense he was afraid and feeling vulnerable. We reminded him that he had been going to his doctor for a very long time, and he would take good care of him. We told him that we did not want to see his condition worsen and then have to go to ER.
We did not downplay his concerns. He expressed appreciation for our concern, but did not want to take any action.
- We then presented options and shared concerns. Can we call the doctor and arrange to have a nurse come to your home? Maybe you won’t have to see the doctor. We would be happy to take you to your appointment so you don’t have to drive to town. We are all worried about you and would feel better if you would both come to our house. If you are not feeling better in the morning one of us can call the doctor.
My father-in-law appreciated our offer, but it was obvious that we were not going to persuade him to do anything. The subject was dropped for the time being, but we did not want to give up.
- When we got home, I suggested to my husband that we needed to call in reinforcements. My husband called his dad’s doctor, explained the situation and asked if someone from the office would be willing to make a “random courtesy call” to his dad. The doctor’s nurse agreed to make the call.
The next day when my husband called his dad, he was told that a very nice nurse from his doctor’s office just “happened” to call him and after they talked, he had an appointment to see the doctor that very day. My husband agreed that was a great idea, and he refrained from the “we told you so.”
Upon seeing the doctor, my father-in-law was immediately admitted to the hospital and was there for five days to treat an infection. He never knew that we had initiated the call to his doctor.
Not every situation a person encounters requires calling in the reinforcements, but in our situation that is what we had to do and it worked.
From our experience, I learned it is better to be proactive and start a “relaxed” conversation with elderly loved ones before a crisis occurs. However, life does not always allow for that option.
By practicing active listening and spending time with your loved one, a “door” will open to have a meaningful conversation. You could learn:
- What are the plans if a loved one can’t remain at home?
- How does your loved one feel about his/her current living situation?
- Are there friends that have needed extra help, and what was their experience?
- Will your loved one consider help in order to remain at home?
These types of conversations will empower your loved one by letting him/her help make decisions regarding care.
Start slow and offer options. I recommend suggesting a loved one try a little bit of help at first; this is often much easier to accept than several hours a day.
If you or someone you know would like to speak with a professional about services available, please contact one of our Care Coordinators.
*Pam Gennings has a Bachelor’s of Arts and has worked in the field of Geriatric Social Work and Care Coordination for more than 30 years. She started working for Oxford HealthCare in 1993. During the course of her career she has helped thousands of people find resources to remain in their homes as well as provided guidance to families that were facing difficulties with their aging loved ones.