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Emotional Health

Why Are Seniors Reluctant to Accept Help?

(And Ways to Cope)

Adult children may find themselves in a situation where they have a new added responsibility for their parents because of their reluctance to accept at-home assistance or care. Geriatrician Lee A. Lindquist, MD, MPH, MBA, explains, “Many seniors think that by accepting help, it’ll cause them to leave their home to go into a care setting. Therefore, they think if they don’t accept help, they’ll stay in their home longer. It’s actually the reverse. It’s about enabling them to stay in their homes longer by accepting help.”

To better understand this growing concern, Dr. Lindquist recently conducted focus groups of nearly 70 participants, ages 65 and older, in the rural, suburban and urban areas of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Chicago, Illinois.

The research revealed some reasons why seniors are reluctant to accept help:

  • Fear of losing independence. Accepting help may create the perception that seniors are no longer able to do certain things, like driving or running errands, and they may feel less independent as a result.
  • Desire to not be a burden. Even if help is readily available, seniors may feel like they may be a hindrance on others.
  • Lack of trust. From hired caregivers to other relatives, seniors may not know who they can trust.
  • Fear of giving up control. Seniors may fear losing control or giving control to others.

If a senior in your life is resisting help, here are some ideas to change the conversation:

  • Reframe independence. The term interdependence more accurately describes how all people rely on each other. No one is truly independent. By asking for help, seniors are not becoming less independent; rather, they are embracing interdependence.
  • Discuss the benefits to others. By accepting help, seniors are in turn giving a gift to the person providing help, because helping others can bring immense joy and satisfaction.
  • Overcome the initial ask. Much like riding a bike or asking someone to dance, there is a degree of fear that comes with uncertainty. The first time you ask for help is the hardest, but it gets easier over time.

Dr. Lindquist admits that there is a lot of stigma around accepting help. However, by using this information, you can have meaningful conversations with your loved ones. Dr. Lindquist explains, “Ultimately, it’s about helping seniors age in place, which is what’s best for most seniors, and trying to find a win-win situation for everyone.”

Support to Help You Thrive

Dr. Lindquist’s focus group research was a sub-project of a larger study for the online tool planyourlifespan.org. This tool allows families to communicate and plan for their home-based needs. It also provides information about local resources available to you should a health crisis occur.

Ranked in the top 10 nationally by U.S. News & World Report, Northwestern Medicine Geriatrics at Northwestern Memorial Hospital continues to seek innovative ways to serve this growing population. Through the Northwestern Medicine Home Care program, advanced care is now as close as the comfort of your own home.

Lee A. Lindquist, MD, MPH
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Associate Professor, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Primary Specialty Geriatric Medicine
  • Secondary Specialty Internal Medicine
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