Aging Parents: Forcing Resistant Parents to Do What’s In Their Best Interest


Sticky subject requiring careful treatment. As a high school counselor I was no stranger to dealing with sticky subjects that could threaten life and limb. There’s a delicate balance between what we’re professionally mandated by law to do, and concern about maintaining a valued relationship and sense of trust that we’ve worked hard to develop.

Likewise, a delicate balance exists between forcing aging parents to do something for their own good when life and limb are at risk and maintaining a close, loving relationship. Plus–guilt can weigh heavily. Can we force resistant parents to do what’s in their best interest when they’re dead set against it, maintain our relationship, and have no guilt?


  • When elders don’t have “a good head on their shoulders” and their judgment is impaired. It’s painful but we must force them to do what’s in their best interest if there’s a threat to life and limb–their’s or other’s.
  • If our parents’ situation is significantly impacting our physical health–actually we have two choices: Bring in a professional caregiver to help full-time until we’re strong again (and get away for 6-7 days asap–break the stress), or shift responsibility to a care facility. If we’re psychologically worn down, do the above.               —Otherwise google to find family counseling agencies, explain your situation and talk with a social worker–possibly a geriatric social worker. Otherwise we effectively help no one.
  • When parents’ physical/health issues (eg. vision, balance, mobility) require living/driving changes to avoid accidents (risk to life and limb).
  • When awareness of terrible decision-making necessitates forcing parents to turn over financial or other responsibilities to us or someone we choose.


–The option of non-negotiable “force” is always there–unpleasant as it may be. With stubborn parents we may need to be “flat-footed” and use it.

–When parents are old and there’s no immediate pressure to change a situation, adult children who continue to pressure, find many elderly parents eventually give in.


One size doesn’t fit all. If we know ourself, one of the following strategies may feel right.

1. When parents strenuously object, if immediate change isn’t necessary, figure out how to back off gracefully, then tread lightly, slowly and patiently–working towards the original goal in whatever way works.

2. The straight-forward approach presents a narrow range of well-thought-out options (not dictated must-do’s). Parents are involved in decision-making. Begin with objective observationMom you sideswiped a car and had a near-accident this week. Then show understanding: Of course it’s upsetting; what do you see as options?  Next, listen, she may suggest something reasonable you haven’t thought of. If not, give options, making certain to include the most acceptable, realistic one you can think of, like infolving a doctor–Do you need an eye exam? (If the doctor says vision is too ify to drive, s/he can be the “bad guy.”)

3.  The light-hearted approach using humorous exaggeration–I know you wouldn’t mind having a chauffeur-driven limo at your disposal every day and if we win the lottery it’s yours; but in the meantime we need a practical plan. Now go back to #2.

4. The majority wins approach is powerful; basically non-negotiable. Needed: at least 1 sibling, preferably 2 or more. If all–or 2 or the majority–agree on what to do, the message is something like: We’ve thought long and hard about this. There’s no perfect solution, but we are uncomfortable with your continuing to drive. Here are the options….”

5.  The easy-way-out: Have a respected “someone else” deliver the bad news: doctor? insurance company?

It’s difficult to be objective where family is concerned, especially parents. They’re our parents. We have a long history (good and/or not-so-good) together. There may be unresolved emotional baggage that prejudices us thus, compounding the difficulty. Realizing this is an advantage. Another advantage: we usually also know what pushes our parents’ ” buttons” and can consciously avoid it.

There’s one booby-trap: past promises that must be broken. If a promise has been made, never to put a parent in a care facility, for example, the difficulty is compounded. Click Mitzi’s promise–she wanted it shared.

We try to help parents age well. “Angels can do no more.” (Grandma’s saying.)

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.

Aging Parents: When Parents Resist Help and Advice


The short answer is “no”–assuming aging parents have what 101-year-old Sr. Advisor R calls “a good head on their shoulders” and they’re doing nothing that threatens life and limb. If we try to force something that even suggests limiting parents’ independence or autonomy, we enter dangerous emotional territory.  Consider the following–if applicable–it just adds to the difficulty.

If parents were alive before the mid-1950’s
Respect for elders was a given in earlier generations. Most adult children wouldn’t think of suggesting they knew what was best for mentally competent parents unless a doctor recommended it. (In those days there was such respect for doctors that men, who weren’t doctors, would make a reservation at a restaurant using Dr. [instead of Mr.] Smith hoping to get better treatment. Males far outnumbered female doctors.)

Today it’s common for adult children to think they know best; indeed feel entitled to make– or  initiate making– major decisions for parents without being asked: eg. when to stop driving; when to move; where to move. The implicit threat to elders’ independence can be explosive.

What is the motivation to force elders to do something? 
1.  our feeling about parents’ judgment
2.  the consequences of–and for–our relationship with parents (earlier, now, future)
3.  Parents’ age, health, near-accidents or scary events, a doctor’s recommendation or friends’ recommendations may contribute.

Possibly omitted, however, is this thought–
“Is it better for them or better/easier for us?” (One of this blog’s Key Thoughts. See right sidebar bottom). To elaborate:

  • Is it better for parents to live less long and be happy?
  • or to live longer and be miserable–or simply tolerate life waiting to die–because we’ve forced them to do something they regret every day?

Of course, intervention is necessary if parents do things that threaten life and limb–theirs or someone else’s. More about that in next post.

In my Dad’s case, it was driving.  Whenever I went west to visit my parents at least one person would  ask: “Don’t you worry about your Dad’s driving at 88, 91, 92?”

Memorable is the story Dad told me over the phone, not knowing I’d already heard–from a friend 3,000 miles away– a judgmental version because it was “all over town.” Dad was driving at dusk in June after dinner, on a familiar, very-curvy, 2-lane road with another old couple. A heavy Oregon rainstorm began. He pulled off to the road’s shoulder because visibility was poor, deciding to wait until the rain subsided. Dad said a young man stopped to see if he could help and suggested Dad follow his tail lights, which Dad did. Everyone got home safely.

Friends mean well. I did live far away. That said, Dad had that “good head on his shoulders.” Also I rode with him each time I visited and checked his car for scratches or worse (none). Plus my brother lived in town and checked. Dad gave up driving later on– on his own. (see post).

Same theme–different specifics. Sr. Advisor, R, my mil, still lives alone at 101 as many readers know. She has cleaning help 4 hours a week, a gardener once a week, and the most helpful, neighbors anyone could imagine. Unfailingly when someone asks how R is and if she’s still living alone, and we answer “she’s fine but life’s harder,” we get the same, fairly judgmental response–something like, she shouldn’t be living by herself–can’t she go to assisted living, or have someone live with her?

My husband is an only child. Understandably it would be much easier for us if she would agree to leave her home, but it’s out of the question. She values her independence and autonomy above all. Assisted living or a companion raises such emotion, we don’t even tiptoe there….anymore. We last tried a year ago.

Bottom line: We’re not doing what’s easier for us. We’re doing what’s better for her. And how can that be? you ask. She could fall. Yes. Does she have an alert pendant? Yes, but we don’t think she has it with her…it’s probably on her night stand—and yes, at least it should be in her bathroom. Yes, to Is she getting enough to eat? She doesn’t cook for herself, does she? Yes, she does.

As long as her mind is basically good, we have a choice:

1. Force her to do what we think best and have her be miserable each remaining day she has left on this earth–or

2. Respect her wishes, knowing the drawbacks and that she’s as happy and engaged as she can be in a world where she feels she can’t depend on things any more.

But she can depend on us to uphold her independence and autonomy as long as she “has a good head on her shoulders.” Whatever happens, we’re supportive of the fact that she will have lived life her way and we have done our best.

Related: Things to Do When Parents are Resisting Help  —an excellent article by a geriatrician.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.