Bursack: 86-year-old mom refuses to accept in-home caregivers

Dear Carol: My mom is 86 and has dementia. She wants to continue to stay in her home, but she needs help with

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Dear Carol: My mom is 86 and has dementia. She wants to continue to stay in her home, but she needs help with daily care. I work full time, so in-home care seems to make sense. Mom agrees with the principle, but when I talk about hiring people, she says she doesn’t want strangers coming into her home.

She isn’t safe in the shower alone. She can’t clean well. She doesn’t eat well, even though I provide her with easy-to-warm-up meals. She also needs reminders to take her medications. I understand her not wanting strangers coming in. I also understand not wanting to admit she should have help, but we need to get real. The only other choice is assisted living and she doesn’t want that. How do I convince her she needs caregivers? — SE.

Dear SE: This is frustrating for you, I know, but unfortunately this is a problem that many caregivers face and there is rarely a quick fix. So, how to convince your mom?

First, research in-home care agencies. Once you settle on an agency, tell them about your situation. This is so common that they will have become pros at dealing with it and may have their own suggestions, but here are mine:

Ask to meet in advance with their caregiver so that you can become familiar with each other. Then tell your mom that you have a friend who’d love to come along with you to meet her since she’s heard so many nice things.

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Once you succeed with the first meeting, you could tell your mom that this friend enjoyed her so much that she’d love to stop over in the future just to visit. The caregiver can then gradually try to help with a couple of housekeeping things “because she’s there anyway.”


This kind of meeting is harder to pull off when people are wearing masks and social distancing, but just go through the social distancing and masks as you would with anyone. Masks will be routine with the caregiver visits, so your mom should adjust to that.

Another approach that can work alone or in conjunction with the one above is to suggest that your mom might enjoy housekeeping help. This often works because for many people it’s easier to accept a housekeeper than someone who provides personal care. Again, this “housekeeper” can then gradually offer to help with fixing hair or some other personal care "since she’s there anyway.”

As with most things that we’d like to see our older parents do for their own good, this whole process is likely to take time. Make suggestions, but don’t push unless her need becomes urgent. Wait a bit and try again. Eventually, she’ll likely agree to meet your “friend,” and you are on your way.

You sound like a compassionate, patient daughter, SE. Your understanding that these changes are hard for your mom will ultimately make it more likely that you will succeed in making her life safer, and hopefully more enjoyable.

ARCHIVE: Read more of Carol Bradley Bursack's Minding Our Elders columns

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.

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