How Do We Convice My Fiercely Independent Parents That They Need Help?

2 answers | Last updated: Oct 02, 2016
Lynbr asked...

How do we work with an 86 yr old Mom and a 90+ yr old Dad who are SO FIERCELY INDEPENDENT that they REFUSE HELP??? He still drives, and tho she has sight of only 1 eye, she is talking about driving again (she hasn't driven in more than 2 years). They will not recognize that they may need some help. They live alone and are not too steady on their feet. We (the 4 kids) are so worried that they will fall, or hurt themselves, or someone else!! We would like to accompany them to their dr appts, but we are not allowed. HIPPA prevents the docs from talking to us about their conditions. At the moment, it seems like all we can do is wait for the inevitable/worst to happen. We are so frustrated. We do not want them to have to give up their independence, but we would like to be allowed to help out.

Expert Answers

Carolyn Rosenblatt, R.N. and Attorney is the author of author of The Boomer's Guide to Aging Parents. She has over 40 years of combined experience in her two professions. As a nurse, she has extensive experience with geriatrics, chronic illness, pain management, dementias, disability, family dynamics, and death and dying. As a trial attorney, she advocated for for the rights of injured individuals and neglected elders. She is also co-founder of

You describe your independent parents and getting help as a worrisome problem. You are not alone. So many people, like you, are trying to prevent disaster by getting their parents to accept help.

I think your parents' doctor is key in assisting you. The AMA requires that doctors talk to their aging clients about driving. The doctor may not have permission to speak to you, but you can certainly speak to the doctor.

First, I would gather all siblings, other relatives and interested friends and discuss the problem of mom's proposed driving again and how dangerous it would be. You can draft a letter to the doctor, which all of you sign, that describes exactly why you don't think she should drive and that you need the doctor's help in stopping her. Keep a copy of your letter and send it to all the doctors you know of who see either parent.

Some states allow you to anonymously report that an elder is a danger while driving and request that the elder be re-tested. Dangerous drivers don't pass the test in these instances. It's not foolproof, because some very elderly folks can manage to pass the test, but it's worth a try if your state allows it. Contact your department of motor vehicles or go online and see if a request for retesting form is available for you to download and send in.

Your parents, unless they are deemed incompetent by someone, are unfortunately free to make unwise decisions about their own safety. you can't force them to get help without legal authority (durable power of attorney or guardianship). Therefore, your only recourse is to plan a strategy for a family meeting, decide on the best way to broach the subject with your parents outside their presence, and then arrange a get together for the purpose of talking about the future with them.

Pick the most tactful person in your family to lead the discussion with your parents. If they keep resisting, keep bringing it up, gently and respectfully. Put in on you that they need to get help: "Mom, Dad, I'm just so worried about your safety. We all are. We so want you to consider getting a home care worker. We'll help you find someone you like. Could you try it just for our sake, as we're all so frantic with fear about you both?" You can try something like this, in whatever words are respectful and honest.

Again, you can write to the MD and ask for help, even if he/she never responds to your request, he/she might talk to your parents about it on the next visit. Ask the doctor to please help you encourage your parents to try home help. Explain exactly why, briefly but in detail. For example: mom nearly fell in the bathroom last week, or dad is so unsteady walking, I'm concerned he'll have a serious accident without more help at home. Mom can't help because she's impaired too.

This is a tough, stressful situation you're in, and it's shared by many. I don't want you to give up because they resist. (Remember my old adage: there's no law against making stupid decisions.)

You can't force, but you can persuade, encourage, persist and persist, and keep trying and get allies to help you. If you do that, you'll feel better about yourself, no matter what happens. I wish you the very best and bless you for your concern for your parents.

Community Answers

Sho b answered...

Hello Lynbr, Thanks for sharing this caregiving concern with our community. Thanks to Ms. Rosenblatt for the helpful suggestions.

When the time is right, you may search for senior living options in your area through our Senior Care Directory or call our trained Family Advisors to talk about your loved one's situation and the options near you at (866) 824-8174. We're here for you.