Asking for help is difficult for most of us, so it must be especially tough for aging loved ones to accept unsolicited help. After decades of independence, no one wants to be told what to do. However, it is often a member of the younger generation – son, daughter, niece, nephew – who first identifies the need and struggles to broach this sensitive topic.

The first conversation with a senior needing assistance is usually the most dreaded, especially when lifelong roles are reversed such that children are trying to care for their parents. Depending on your situation, try these strategies to facilitate the conversation and get your favorite senior the assistance he or she needs and deserves.

Luxurious Lifestyle

Reframe the need for help as a luxury of aging, as something he or she deserves after a lifetime of giving to and caring for others. Maybe your mom has cared for her husband and children for the last sixty years and ultimately deserves someone to pamper her for a change. Perhaps your dad spent his adult life building a career to support the family; hasn’t he earned the luxury of someone finally working to support him? Focus the conversation on the positives of in-home care instead of expressing your concerns about what might happen without it.

Parallel Story

If you know someone going through a similar situation, use that as a way to start the conversation with the senior in your life. You might share the story with your parent, saying it made you start to think about how your family would handle the same situation. This way, the conversation starts with unemotional observations about someone else’s life, rather than focusing immediately on your own parent, which might make him or her feel defensive. Depending on how your friend’s story ended, you might transition with something like “I wouldn’t want you to end up in a nursing home like Mr. Smith” or “Ms. Smith is so glad she’s able to stay in her own home” assuming, of course, that your parent also wishes to remain at home.

It’s Me, Not You

If worrying about your senior loved one is eating at you, don’t be afraid to say so. Especially if the person is extremely selfless and thoughtful, he or she might be willing to accept help simply to make you feel better. Focus the conversation on yourself and your feelings – you are worried, which is not necessarily a reflection on your loved one. Ask him or her to accept a little bit of help to ease your own stress.

Consider these hypothetical conversation snippets that offer ways to address some of the most common reactions:

Senior: I’m fine, I don’t need help.

You: I know you don’t need help, but wouldn’t it be nice to

  • get out of the house once in a while?
  • have someone to talk to?
  • have the laundry taken care of?
  • enjoy a home-cooked meal once in a while?

Senior: I don't want to be a burden.

You:  You would never be a burden, but I would feel better if you had some help around here.

I can’t keep myself from worrying about you, but I wouldn’t worry as much if you had someone here to help even though I know you don’t need it.

Senior: You don't need one more thing on your plate.

You: I’m fine, but I do wish we could spend our limited time together talking or doing something fun. Instead, I’m usually busy in the kitchen or tidying up when I visit. I don’t mind cooking and cleaning, but I’d rather get someone to help with the chores so we can enjoy each other’s company when we get to be together.