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When a Loved One Resists Care

Reviewed by: MySeniorCare Staff
Last Updated: 10/22/2010 1:01:36 PM

At some point, you may want to care for those who've cared for you in the past. Everyone needs help getting through hurdles in life at some point. The difficulty when caring for an older family member, such as a parent, is that they are not children; they're grown adults who may not totally understand what's happening to them but may also be a little frightened, anxious and embarrassed to need their child's help.

On top of all of that, if the person has had a stroke or suffers from muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy or another degenerative disorder where the speech and/or communication has been damaged, it makes offering care even more of a struggle. Imagine how you might feel if you were trying to tell someone something, such as, "I don't think I need a bath right now, thank you," or, "All I'd like right now is just to be able to hold this cup of tea on my own and watch my favorite show" and you couldn't get those words out. Wouldn't that be frustrating?

The best thing to do is try taking a more omniscient view of the situation and ask, "What else could be going on here?" Here are a few tips and strategies should such a situation arise:

Tune Into The Environment

It's important to maintain the familiarity and comfort levels in your loved one's environment as much as possible. When they are out of sorts, you should step back for a few moments, asking yourself: Is there anything happening at home that may be the root of the problem? Is the thermostat too high? Are the lights too low? Is there construction or commotion? Is there tension? Sometimes it can be something very small that isn't quite right setting them off. Tune into those small things.

Put Yourself In Their Shoes

If you were getting care, what would frustrate you? How would you respond when things weren't the way you were used to them being? Sometimes seeing the world through their eyes will make you much more understanding and empathetic to their situation.

The Difference Between a Mountain & a Molehill

Refusing to get dressed when pajamas are more comfortable is a molehill; fighting a visit to the doctor or refusing medication is a mountain. Dealing with adults who are ill, especially those suffering with dementia, are often confused and scared. Getting angry with them makes them even more defensive. You have to choose your battles. Just realize the difference and let the little ones go.

Look At Different Ways of Approaching The Situation

When the usual way of handling things doesn't work, try a more creative approach. Fights going to the doctor? Do something they love beforehand. Doesn't want to eat certain types of food? Create a menu for them to choose from or ask if they want to help prepare the meal (ability-level depending, of course). Fights bath times in the morning? See if it works better in the evenings. Do what works for them, when it works for them.


Sometimes the best approach to figuring out how to deal with things is to ask questions then listen. This may not always be the best approach, especially if the person has speech/language difficulties. But if you pay close attention there is always a way to understand. Be clear, however, that with certain things (e.g., medication, nutrition, doctor's appointments, etc.) there isn't an option but such things can be handled in a different way if discussed.

Seek Assistance

You need a break, too, as a reminder of your life outside of being a caregiver. Most communities have respite services or nurses who will come to your house. Take advantage of these resources, even if it's merely for a couple of hours.

Symptoms & Possible Causes

The National Pain Foundation offers the following insights about symptoms and causes of resistance to care:

Symptom: Won't get out of bed Possible Causes: Illness, injury, infection, depression or pain

Symptom: Won't bathe or groom Possible Causes: Embarrassment, depression or shame

Symptom: Won't eat Possible Causes: Dental problems, digestive problems or difficulty with utensils

Symptom: Won't leave the house Possible Causes: Depression, fear

Symptom: Won't participate in family outings Possible Causes: Stress, depression or environmental factors

Symptom: Won't perform daily tasks Possible Causes: Depression or pain

Symptom: Won't take prescribed medication Possible Causes: Side effects such as nausea, dizziness or constipation; confusion

In the end, the most important aspects of caring for your loved one are making them as comfortable, happy and loved as possible while also being sensitive to their needs and feelings. The more these aspects are in sync, the better the results - and the less resistance you are likely to encounter.

Posted: 3/31/2011 1:47:24 PM

Great article, it really gives you a great overview in preparation for being a first time caregiver.

Posted: 4/7/2011 10:15:21 AM

Wow this article is very useful. This is a difficult topic for us family caregivers and a lot of these tips work very well.

Posted: 4/15/2011 10:20:40 AM

Very helpful, especially the list of possible causes. That's a great mindset to have when caring for a senior, always looking for the causes.

Posted: 5/16/2011 1:13:51 AM

I remember when my mom refused care for the first time, turn out she was having problems digesting her food. It made her cranky all the time. She's now in a [elder care facility in NJ]( "elder care facility new jersey").

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