The Other Side Of 50



Dealing with ‘no’

I often tell people that I’ve been blessed with great parents, not just because they are fine examples of human beings but because of their willingness to embrace change as they age.

When my sisters and I suggested we hire a geriatric care manager to recommend ways to make it easier for our dad to live with Parkinson’s, they agreed.

And when we suggested they move from their beloved retirement home in Cape Cod to a place that would be easier for our dad, who uses a wheelchair, to navigate, they took some time to consider and then decided that made sense.

It probably helps that my dad’s an engineer and uses logic to examine situations and that my mom puts his needs ahead of her own. It certainly makes for an easier time for my two sisters and me.

However, as we work with families at Senior Concerns, I can see this is not always the norm.

Quite often adult children come to us frustrated, angry and out of ideas on how to convince their parents to do the right thing—stop driving, use a cane or a walker, move from a home they can no longer navigate or take their medications according to doctor’s orders.

Just this week I watched two seasoned family caregivers, who had both cared for their moms, counseling our visitor Jane on how to handle dealing with “no.”

Jane’s husband was headed back east to spend a week with his mom, who at 82 had lost her job in real estate, fallen and broken her hip, and fallen into depression. Jane’s husband was going to visit for a week and, in his words, “straighten things out.”

Both of the women warned Jane that her husband telling his mom what she needed to do would most likely meet with resistance, and that her motherin law was probably dealing with loss and would need to resolve it in her own way.

The author of “How to Say It to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders,” David Solie, says, “No comes from deep within, because when everything around them seems to be giving way, sometimes the only control they can exercise is to say no.”

Most children who are confronted with parents who say no to a reasonable and logical request often feel powerless and frustrated that they cannot convince their loved one to follow their council. Often the child reacts by plowing ahead and making the change without the consent of their parent.

While caring for my elderly neighbor Fred, I kept suggesting that he throw away the old straws from his daily frappuccino.

He kept them next to the kitchen sink, in standing water in the dish drainer, and they were filled with germs. Finally one day in a cleaning frenzy, I threw away all the straws and purchased a box from the grocery store.

Later that day I got a call from Fred’s paid caregiver, who asked me what happened to the straws. When I explained, she reprimanded me, telling me I had disempowered Fred.

She noted that Fred had little control after his stroke and I’d taken away something important to him, and furthermore, the new straws were too thin to allow the thick frappuccino through.

At first I was angry at the caregiver— how dare she tell me how to care for this man I loved as much as she did? But after some introspection, I realized she was right.

This small thing, a straw, was something Fred could control, and I had rejected his wishes and second-guessed his needs. The risk of danger was probably pretty small.

One of the best and hardest lessons I have learned when a senior says no is to back off and give them space and awaken my senses to what the senior might have to give up in order to agree with what I am proposing.

Andrea Gallagher, CSA, is president of Senior Concerns, a nonprofit agency serving Ventura and western Los Angeles counties. For more information, visit, and for comments or questions, email

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