One of the greatest sources of frustration for caregivers, spouses, and adult children can be the stubborn pride of men. Many men seem to be wired or conditioned to refuse to seek help. This can lead some to drive extra miles in circles as they refuse to stop to ask for directions. Others forge forward with activities that they are not fully prepared for or no longer capable of doing independently.
Why do men tend to refuse to accept help? Men are raised to be independent family providers. Anything that falls short of this goes counter to accepted cultural norms which can cause a man to feel less worthy and uncomfortable.
Recently I had a discussion with a caregiving client who is caring for her 99 year old father. Remarkably, this gentlemen has led a healthy and independent life until about 2 years ago but is “aging in place” in his home with the dedicated support of his daughter. With recent medical setbacks that include worsening chronic back pain and early signs of dementia, the father is refusing to accept minor home modifications and adaptive equipment that could ease the completion of his activities of daily living.
Over the past month, father and daughter have been experiencing increasing levels of disagreement due to frustration on both sides. This is understandable as the daughter wants to help her Dad minimize discomfort and provide him with tools that can increase his independence and safety. The father has lived independently and managed his home successfully for over 70 years, and the last 5 years without his dear wife who predeceased him. He has a set way of doing things that have worked to his satisfaction and understandably does not see the need to change or accept help.
How can an adult child caregiver convince an elder father to accept help? Start by making the request about you – your concern and your comfort. Do not make it about them and what they “should” do. It will put the elder man on the defensive. None of us like to be told what we should do, especially if we believe it will limit us or our vitality in some way.
Most caregivers experience pushback and frustration because they take the approach of suggesting change that they perceive as good or needed for their loved one. The caregiver is very likely correct in this assessment. To get buy-in from an elder male loved one it is important to take a different approach that explains the caregiver’s motivation for the request and allows the loved one to maintain a level of personal control with the decision. Here are the steps…
- Acknowledge and validate how important the elder man has been to you and your family over the years. Be sure to demonstrate that you still fully value the wise contributions of your loved one, even in the midst of declining physical health that must feel very sad and frustrating.
- Demonstrate that you understand how frustrating their physical decline must be.
- Share your concerns and fears for your loved ones health and safety. Do not blame the elder loved one for any of what you share.
- Discuss specifically why you think a proposed change will help the situation and provide an extra level of comfort and ease for you. Make the impact of the change about you not them.
- Ask permission to try the intervention as a favor to you and then to have a follow-up discussion to get their opinion and input. Pour on the adult child charm and let the elder male loved one know that they have personal control with the final decision.
- Implement and encourage the loved one to follow through with cheerleading and smile with a caregiving mission accomplished.