gain·​say | gān-ˈsā

gain·​say | gān-ˈsā

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 well-being of their loved ones who refuse to acknowledge they need help. It’s a delicate situation with no ‘one’ right answer.

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

As if all this weren’t enough, the kicker is when the loved-one in question 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.

There are, however, 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 who. Many seniors are reluctant to accept guidance from their children. Consider asking a trusted friend of your loved-one to broach the subject of getting them help. We are often more receptive to the advice of our peers than our children or younger relatives.
  • Empower Rather than Disempower: The aging process is often accompanied by a feeling of a loss of control. Many people stubbornly hold on to wrong decisions to assert authority over their situation. Try taking a team approach and giving your loved-one a voice in creating a plan to improve the quality of their life and make it possible to live safely in their home.
  • Start Slow: Personal care is just that – personal. Most people are uncomfortable with strangers coming to their home, and especially with having them help with bathing and dressing. Why not start with assistance with grocery shopping and light housework and build from there?

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

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