According to recent research, nearly all people experience some form of cognitive decline later in life.

Cognitive decline can cause memory impairment and loss of the ability to reason. This may explain why elderly parents can become increasingly stubborn as they age. Of course, older people can become stubborn simply because they are set in their ways. That stubbornness can do more than cause CAREgiver frustration, however.

In certain situations, it can even lead to non-compliance with doctor’s orders. In fact, a study commissioned by Home Instead in the USA cited unwillingness to change as a top cause for not following doctors’ orders. So how can you overcome your loved one’s constant refrain of “no”? Try these practical tips to gain cooperation and reduce your feelings of CAREgiver stress.

How to Turn a No into a Yes

1. Be willing to compromise.

If your loved one won’t shower, for example, will he or she at least agree to a sponge bath? What about washing their hair? What about simply washing their hands before eating? Sometimes compromise leads directly to a “yes.”

2. Don’t be afraid to use bribery.

Sometimes family caregivers can view their elderly parents’ uncooperativeness as a type of temper tantrum. Realise this is not the case. Small children possess the ability to reason, which is why you don’t want to reward a tantrum. However, cognitive decline in seniors can lead to an inability to reason effectively. That’s why reward systems are A-OK when trying to elicit cooperation from an older adult – it isn’t rewarding difficult behaviour.

When you make a request you expect will be met with resistance, try adding a reward to it. You may be surprised to discover how eager your loved one is to please you when they think they’re getting something out of it.

3. Use the ‘three tries’ rule.

The Home Instead network trains its professional CAREGivers to try three times in three different ways to turn a no into a yes. You can do the same thing.

  • Ask your loved one to do something: “Mum, let’s work on a jigsaw puzzle.”
  • If she declines, wait a while and then ask again with additional information from her life story: “Mum, can you help me with this jigsaw puzzle? I’m stuck, and you’ve always been good at this.”
  • If she declines again, use physical touch and the offer of a reward for complying: Take her hand and look her in the eye. Say, “Mum, can you help me with this jigsaw puzzle? You’ve always been so good at this. If we can get just three pieces into place, let’s reward ourselves with some tea and cake.”

4. Don’t take the ‘no’ personally.

Understand that a ‘no’ is not a rejection of you. In people experiencing cognitive decline, ‘no’ may simply represent a loss of memory and the ability to use good judgement. Asking your parent to take a shower may seem like a perfectly reasonable request to you, but your loved one may be thinking, “I just took a shower earlier this morning. Why on earth would I want to take one again? No!”

5. Make it easy to cooperate by offering choices.

It’s easy to say ‘no’ to requests that seem unilateral: “Eat your lunch right now. I went to a lot of work to prepare this delicious food.”

It’s easier to say ‘yes’ when you’re given a choice: “Would you like to eat lunch at 11:30 or at noon? Would you prefer tuna sandwiches or egg salad?”

Unilateral: “Take this pill right now. It’s time.”

Choice: “The doctor said to take this pill with your lunch. Do you prefer to take it before you eat or after?”

Remember: A Lack of Cooperation Is Not the End of the World

It’s easy to get so invested in the power struggle that you lose sight of the overall goal. If you’re aiming for 100 percent cooperation and compliance from a stubborn parent or spouse, maybe you need to revise your expectations. The world will not end if someone refuses to shower today (or even for two or three days). By setting reasonable expectations and using tricks to foster cooperation, you can reduce the stress you feel as a caregiver each time you hear the word ‘no.’

For more useful caregiving advice and tips download our popular resource: “When Seniors Say NO” now, or click here to contact us.