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When Mom Refuses Help From Anyone But You

For this frustrating dilemma, a different approach might help

By Nancy Stein

(This article appeared previously on

Editor’s note: Nancy Stein of Seniority Matters regularly answers questions from her website’s readers on family caregiving. The following is one example:

Q. My mother is 89 years old with onset of dementia. She lives alone in a large house and my sister and I drop by several times a week to visit and check on her. She forgets to take her medications and does not eat like she should, yet she refuses help from anyone who is not family. Denial is her favorite defense. Any suggestions? —Jon G., Miami

A. It's always difficult to know what to do when a parent resists help they clearly need. Your mother's behavior will likely become even more challenging as her dementia progresses.

That's why it's so important that you and your sister persevere to put a plan in place. Ideally, your plan will ensure that your mother takes her medications regularly, eats well, and has the additional support that she needs so that she will remain healthy and safe.

I contacted Bonnie Levin, Ph.D., the director of the Division of Neuropsychology at the University of Miami, and relayed your question. She offered two strategies.

"First, screen potential caregivers and then ask your mother to select the one she most comfortable with. It will help her to feel that she's part of the process. Keep it simple and give her a choice between two individuals," Levin explained.

"Then, once you have identified a potential caregiver, spend time with your mother and the caregiver together, so your mother pairs a family member with an outside caregiver.”


Levin also suggested a way to make this transition easier for your mother.

“Identify some activities, at home and outside of the home, that she can do with the caregiver. That way your mother views this individual not as an intruder but a source of fun and support.”

How you communicate with your mother will be a critical part of implementing your plan.

Other previous Ask Nancy columns address this issue, and you may find them relevant and helpful to your particular situation.


Nancy SteinStrickman Stein, Ph.D., is the founder of, a caregiver advisory and referral service for south Florida seniors and their families. You can reach her at [email protected]. Read More
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