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Natural Awakenings Lehigh Valley

What is gain·​say?

gain·​say | gān-ˈsā : Merriam-Webster’s definition: to declare to be untrue or invalid

What to do when, despite evidence to the contrary, a loved one continues to gainsay that he or she needs help in their home. As a Patient Advocate, I’ve received countless calls from distressed family members concerned about the safety and wellbeing of their loved ones who refuse to acknowledge they need help. It’s a delicate situation with no right answer.

Frequently, callers express overwhelming frustration over a parent or relative because they may not be eating well, may not be taking medications properly, may not be going to doctors’ appointments, or may not be understanding what is being said by their doctor when they do go.  They may have fallen, and there’s concern about whether or not they’re safe in their home. 

As if all this weren’t enough, the kicker is when the loved one denies there are any problems and refuses to accept help! How do we stand by and watch someone exercise their right to make poor decisions?

These issues are at the heart of much family discord and distress, with everyone fighting over what to do. Unfortunately, having the mental capacity to make decisions does not guarantee the use of good judgment, and there’s little we can do to force someone to accept help if they refuse it. 

A few approaches that may get better results than all-out combat: 

  • Consider the Family Dynamic: In our culture, the parent/child relationship has a built-in dynamic defining who advises whom.  Many seniors are reluctant to accept guidance from their children.  Consider asking a loved one’s trusted friend to broach the subject of getting help.  We’re often more receptive to the advice of our peers than of our children or younger relatives.
  • Empower Rather than Disempower: The aging process is often accompanied by a feeling of loss of control.  Many people stubbornly hold on to wrong decisions to assert authority over their situation.  Take a team approach and give your loved one a voice in creating a plan to improve their life quality and make it safer to remain in their home. 
  • Start Slow: Personal care is – personal. Most people are uncomfortable with strangers coming to their home - especially having them help with bathing and dressing.  Why not start with grocery shopping assistance and light housework and build from there?

Despite today’s many community living options with built-in assistance, most people still prefer to age in their homes. Approaching the associated challenges gently and with compassion affords those we love to age with the dignity and respect they deserve. 

Contact Cathy Abreu, RN, BSN, BCPA at 908-528-3977 or [email protected] for more information on how to keep your loved one safe at home. Visit our website at

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