Caring for parents who don't think they need to be cared for

Posted by: Jean Chatzky

How do you help someone who doesn't feel they need to be helped? That's a question that could be asked in any number of contexts: When thinking about a close friend who desperately needs to lose some weight. When trying to get through to a colleague who isn't taking care of her health. And often when considering the needs of older parents.


It happened in my family. My grandfather was stridently independent. He had lost his wife decades earlier, never remarried, and was proud at how well he took care of himself. When things started to slip through the cracks - bills, for instance, went unopened and unpaid - he wasn't willing to discuss the matter. In fact, he was 95 before he allowed my father (his only child) into his financial life to help.

Sometimes - as in Gina's family - the care needed revolves around health more than it does around finances. It can still be a tricky dance. Here are a few suggestions for making it a little easier:

Do what you have to do to start the conversation. Sometimes this is relatively simple. You gather your siblings and make a game plan for what you need to discuss. Chart out a convenient time and launch in. But I also understand that there are some parents that don't want to play ball. And there may be some of you who feel too uncomfortable to begin. In that case, it sometimes pays to bring in a third party - not a grown child but an advisor (lawyer, accountant, etc.) that the parent trusts to facilitate. It's important that your parent gets the feeling that you're not trying to wrest control, you're trying to a) understand what their wishes are and b) make sure that nothing slips through the cracks that would make their lives more difficult than necessary.

While you're there, get the details. Or at least make a list of the details you need to nail down, so you know what has to be followed up on. These include things like locations of accounts, contact information for important individuals (again, lawyer, accountant, etc.), and making sure that all of the crucial documents - will, living will, durable power of attorney for finances, healthcare proxy - have been executed and you know where they are.

Start considering a care plan. Once it becomes clear that your parents will need some help with their care, it becomes a question of how much help - and how much cost. If this is a world unfamiliar to you, hiring a geriatric care manager to help you figure out what's needed, what you can do yourself and what you can't is often a smart move. These consultants are familiar with what's available through local, state and federal governments as well as in your area and can help you navigate. You can find one at The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging also can help you locate caregiving help.