Beth Britton writes about the reasons a relative may be reluctant to accept help and gives tips for families in this situation.

It’s often thought that trying to arrange care is the most difficult aspect of supporting a loved one who has developed care needs, as I wrote about in my last blog for Care Choices ‘Accessing social care for a relative or as a family carer.

For some families, and mine included, difficulties can begin even earlier though. It may be that you’ve identified that your loved one needs care and support but they don’t recognise this. I have written many times about not waiting until a crisis point occurs (as happened with my dad), including in my December D4Dementia blog ‘Resolve to not put off until tomorrow what you can do today’. Although, sometimes it does take a crisis for everyone to agree that additional professional care is needed.

Why might a person be reluctant to accept care from others?

As human beings we are conditioned to be resilient. There is also the great British ‘Stiff upper lip’ that is all about keeping calm and carrying on. Many of our elderly parents and relatives have been used to coping in the face of significant adversity having lived through wars. Alongside this, a fear of losing control, not being able to make their own choices, or being stripped of their independence can be a huge factor for an older person. Equally, there may be concerns about a loss of freedom. Pride in themselves, their abilities and their home can play an important role too.

Often an older or disabled person may be reluctant to accept help from family members because they don’t want to ‘be a burden’. They may not want to add to the workload of family members. It can also be the case that a husband or wife simply doesn’t want their spouse to become their carer. Or perhaps they don’t want to accept that they need professional support as they think this will mean being separated from their spouse in the future.

What approach should family members take?

My top tips would be:

Explore your loved one’s concerns with kindness, compassion and empathy.

It’s often challenging when we are close to a person to put ourselves in their shoes. We can see the potential for disaster and are worried. Instead, we may just label their feelings as stubbornness and resistance to care. It is vital, however, to let your loved one express how they feel and for you to listen and empathise. Dismissing their concerns, telling them they are being difficult or trying to bombard them with your viewpoint may only push them further away from accepting help.

Be prepared for everyone to feel emotional.

Discussing a loved one’s declining health, and potentially getting into the territory of future care and the end of someone’s life can often become emotional. For everyone involved that may mean tears and sadness, fears and worries. It could involve a sense of loss or a lack of rational thought or common sense. Equally, it could become confrontational or fuel accusations. Try to defuse any tensions – arguments tend to entrench opinions – and tackle sensitive topics in the most relaxed way possible.

Do your research into care and support options.

You may feel that domiciliary care is needed, or you may be thinking about extra care housing or residential care. Before big changes are made, however, you might want to think about something like a companionship or befriending service (coronavirus restrictions permitting). Less invasive changes might help your loved one get used to the idea of having professionals involved in their life.

Consider respite care.

Suggest a short term, one or two week trial of respite care to see how you and your loved one feel about using different professional support services. Read my Care Choices blog, ‘The importance of respite care’ if you want to explore this option.

Seek professional advice and support.

It may help to talk to your loved one’s doctor, social worker (if they have one) or another professional to understand their viewpoint on the situation and get their advice or input. Potentially, they may be willing to talk to your loved one to explain why they believe care and support is needed (if indeed they think this). Sometimes having the viewpoint of a trusted professional who isn’t part of your family can help, but be careful that it doesn’t look like you are ganging up on your relative.

Need more information?

There are a range of advice lines where you and your loved one can discuss care and support further: