Why Do Seniors Resist Change?

By the time many seniors reach their golden years, life doesn’t always feel so golden – especially if they must forfeit a portion of their independence to age and compromised health. For seniors, change is often difficult. Resistance to change is easier. Here are the reasons for resistance and how to deal with it.

Understanding resistance in seniors

For younger family members to gain insights into the phenomenon of resistance they need to step back from common sense assumptions.  In order to understand their behavior, one needs to put themselves in their shoes and try to imagine what accepting care may feel like for an older person. This is a challenge because it is hard to imagine a time when one becomes old and might not be able manage independently. An elderly person may resist primarily because they are still in this mindset. Even though there may be obvious and objective evidence that a senior needs help, accepting it constitutes a significant change in one’s relationship with the world. The feeling of “I can no longer manage on my own. I have to rely on others or be dependent on them,” is very difficult to get accustomed to.

Seniors often feel that accepting help could be the first step towards losing control of everything. And in the face of losses that they experience in the form of declining health, decreased income and death of friends, our aging loved ones struggle to hold on to some sense of their lives as they’ve always lived them. The inability to manage by themselves is a big blow to their self-esteem.

If a senior has been fiercely independent all their lives, the behavioral manifestation of resistance can be even more problematic because such strong personality traits do not diminish with age. Any change in the level of autonomy can be even more threatening for such a person.

The feeling of being a parent and the one to look after the family, which is maintained throughout their lives can add to the resistance of accepting that they are now dependent on their children. Accepting this role reversal can be a real challenge for most seniors. If the relationship between the parent and the child has been a difficult one, the dialogue and negotiations around changing roles may be quite a struggle and certain situations may be difficult to resolve without mediation.

It is exceptionally painful for seniors to accept this change and may often react with anger when they sense that their independence is being taken away. Some more reasons for resistance to change may be:

  • Fear of the loss of control
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear that their lives will not be the same
  • Depression from loss of a spouse
  • Feeling of isolation
  • Dementia

Handling resistance

The issues must be handled with sensitivity, always respecting and supporting the senior’s wish for the maximum level of autonomy possible. Dealing with a resistant parent may not be easy and one may need to try a variety of approaches. But the earlier you apply them, the better it is for you and them.

According to Illinois psychologist Mark Fraizer the key to psychological health is accepting that life won’t stay the same and aging changes everyone. Tasks which could once be done with ease will become difficult overtime, but if one knows this ahead of time and is prepared then it will be much easier to manage it.

The most important step towards this is to listen to what the seniors have to say. Let them explain why they don’t want to change. While talking to the parent, stress on the fact that you are not trying to take control away. Instead of telling them that there is plan for their care which has to be implemented, emphasize that the senior would just need to take small steps to make things better. Also, these steps are flexible and may be adjusted if required. It may be necessary that the discussion is broken down into several sessions so that it does not become overwhelming for the senior.

Unless the mental state of the senior is compromised they should have the right to make their own decisions. It may be possible that the senior may need some time to get used to the idea of care. However, if there is a crisis situation they may have to be persuaded otherwise. Also, if a parent is experiencing signs of confusion or memory loss, please see our earlier article: "Memory Loss in Seniors and How to Prevent It" to understand the symptoms of loss in memory in seniors, they may not be capable of making responsible decisions.

In certain situations, it may even help if someone outside the family can broach upon these issues and provide an external perspective on the situation. A professional with extensive experience talking with older people, including those suffering from dementia, could talk to the senior about the difficult changes in their and how they can accept these changes.