I Can Manage By Myself, But Thanks Anyway...
Why do some retirees strenuously resist assistance? It comes from a strong desire to maintain independence, or at least the appearance of having it.
Why is asking for help so very difficult? And, why do some older people strenuously resist assistance? For some, this resistance comes from a strong desire to avoid revealing any weakness that might make them appear less than completely capable.
We live in a society increasingly focused on self-help. Take a look in any bookstore and the shelves are overflowing with literature on how we can go it alone and help ourselves. This tendency to believe that we should be able to manage alone, coupled with the belief that seeking help implies weakness, leaves many retirees left to struggle quietly on their own.
Some seniors hold an image of themselves more reflective of the person they used to be, and have difficulty acknowledging the current limitations of their aging bodies and minds. Understandably, they treasure their independence and may go to great lengths to preserve the appearance of having it. Having spent a lifetime successfully running their own lives, families and businesses; it makes perfect sense that they are reluctant to accept a decline in their abilities.
For some, it takes a near disaster or a major event to occur before they will admit that things need to change. We have all heard stories about the stove mistakenly left on resulting in a kitchen fire. Or the tub that overflowed causing a flood. Why does it have to come to that before they will ask for help? Even worse, why do they try to cover it up and deny that anything bad happened at all? Letting things go for too long might precipitate a crisis; and sadly, only then might they be willing to start the conversation about assistance.
Obviously, independence is of critical importance to all of us. Imagine the shock of being told that you shouldn’t drive your own car anymore. Or coming to the realization that you can’t safely tend your garden anymore. Or cut the lawn, or shovel the snow? After all, what will the neighbours think? Really? What will the neighbours think? While it may sound silly, this is a very real concern for the person who derives personal satisfaction, dignity and pride from these things. Relinquishing activities that they have performed effortlessly all their lives can be a huge blow to their self-esteem. It is natural that they might experience a deep sense of loss. Even more unimaginable is the prospect of others finding out that they can no longer manage everyday tasks on their own. Sadly, the longer they wait before they seek assistance, the more things can veer off course. Even if they are aware that things are spiraling out of control, asking for help still feels like admitting defeat.So, what’s up with this reluctance to ask for help? In some cases, if depression or dementia is present, they may not even know the extent of their decline. Others don’t want to appear weak to their children, so they don’t admit they need help. Needing help has long been ingrained in our thinking as a weakness, and it is difficult to change our minds on this.
Some may simply not know how to ask, so they avoid the conversation altogether. Others may be fearful that an admission of need will be used against them. They might fear that they will be pushed out of their home into assisted living if they admit their struggles. Asking might make them feel indebted. There may be a hesitance to have strangers in their home, or they may not be willing to spend money on services that they have been saving for emergencies. Perhaps they feel they will owe something in return. Whatever the reason, it is a challenge to ask for help.
Close friends and family need to be alert to the warning signs that things might be amiss. Bills that go unpaid, unkempt clothes, a lack of food in the fridge, missed medications; are all signs that things might not be going so well. Bumps and bruises might indicate a recent fall. Be watchful for signs that they are hiding things from you. They might try to cover a bruise with a sweater, or only drive the car when they know you won’t find out. Others will try to prove they are still capable by continuing to do dangerous activities like climb a ladder or drive the car.
Since your loved one may not be willing to initiate the conversation, it falls upon you to find a respectful way to offer assistance. Their reluctance often comes from their deep desire to stay in their home. If it is clear that your goal is to help them stay in their home as well, it might then be easier to talk about services that can help keep them home longer, with less risk to their health. The conversation is more likely to go smoothly if it is approached in a respectful manner that acknowledges how your loved one might be feeling. The loss of independence can be devastating, and needs to be handled in such a way that their dignity and self-esteem are preserved. A successful conversation may be more dependent on how you deliver your message, rather than what you say. When your message comes from a place of respect and concern for their well-being, it is more likely to be received in the right manner. Understanding the impact that a conversation about declining abilities will have on your loved one, it is important to find the balance between offering assistance and appearing to be condescending. Begin by understanding the older person’s needs and then consider how you might take charge of some things, without actually taking over. Ideally, a plan that supports your loved one’s dignity, with input from both parties, is one that will prevail.