04/14/2014 04:59 pm ET Updated Jun 14, 2014

10 Creative Ways to Help When Your Help Isn't Wanted

The number-one reason older adults often refuse assistance is fear of losing control. (It's numbers two, three, and four, too.) It's almost irrelevant that the need for help may be clear due to an illness like Alzheimer's or stroke. Parents are driven by a need for control, and their adult children are driven by a need to solve problems, get things done, and tick items off a to-do list. That disconnect can be crazymaking -- for both sides.

These ideas can help you navigate this tricky dance when an aging parent can continue to live independently (as with mild dementia) but is requiring evermore support:

1. Listen more than you act, at first.

Listening builds trust; lecturing builds defensiveness. Your goal is to help, not to fight about the need for help. Spend time together not with the aim of nagging or saying what you think should be done, but just relaxing and listening. You'll be able to achieve more if your parent doesn't feel like you're "taking over" or "intruding" because that's the only thing you ever talk about any more.

2. Understand what "no" means.

Knee-jerk refusals are a natural response to the inner conflicts that stem from coping with losses and threats. Well-meant offers of help can be perceived as interfering and bringing more changes. The person is thinking, Whoa! but it comes out as, "No!" Show empathy that you get this: "You're right, selling the car is a hassle...." "You do love going out. What would be the worst part of a walker for you?" Empathy make the other party more receptive to your next move.

3. Observe and record what you're dealing with.

Let facts help you. Make written lists of the problems (bill collectors are calling about unpaid bills, three car accidents, can't mow lawn, got lost last week.). This keeps a more neutral focus on the needs at hand, not on you as a "meddler."

4. Instead of making suggestions, ask questions.

Solicit your parent's input: "Gee, I know you don't want to move, but how do you think we should handle upkeep on the house now that the doctor says you can't go up ladders?" "Which bugs you less, having people in the house twice a month or not having a house as clean as you're used to?" "Why don't you make a list of pros and cons?"

5. Propose "temporary" solutions.

One daughter persuaded her frail parents to have a geriatric care manager (who was referred to as a life coach) drop by daily while she was out of town. They enjoyed the help so much that the arrangement continued after her business trip ended. Try: "Why don't you try this for a couple of months and see how it goes for you?" "The firm offers a trial service for a month. The first visit is free, so what's there to lose?"

6. Mask the purpose of the help.

To help keep an eye on her mother across the country, one woman enlisted local friends who stopped by on pretexts. A neighbor asked the mother to save the newspaper for her because she didn't subscribe; every day or so she'd drop by to collect them. Another friend asked for crochet lessons.

7. Find the right inroad.

Your mother might not like the idea of meal delivery or a maid just because she's old and needs help. But she might get a kick out of a birthday gift for these services pitched as "pampering." Someone who always follows clergy or medical advice might be open to forms of help that are "prescribed" by the right person.

8. Keep focused on the solution and the benefits.

Try the good old "if/then" statements: "If someone helps with cleaning, then I'll have more time to take you to lunch and the salon." "If your meals are brought to you, then you'll get your energy back faster and be able to go back to swim class."

9. Make it about you.

Some parents don't factor in the effect on you. Be clear about how your job, your family, your health are impacted by their not permitting more help. Guilt trips can work in both generational directions.

10. Realize that sometimes you have to wait.

Ultimately, it's hard to force anybody to do anything. You may have to live with decisions or living situations you're not thrilled with and wait for the proverbial other shoe to drop. This can be agonizing. (And realistic personal boundaries become really key.) You may be only able to do what you can preventatively until things reach the point where finances, health, or physical safety are in jeopardy.