What if an Elder Resists Treatment?

One of the most common complaints I encounter doing elder care house calls is this: “My—father/mother/aunt/uncle/grandmother—will not cooperate with care. We’re just trying to help, and our loved one fights us every step of the way!” There are so many reasons that the elderly may resist treatment: anxiety, delusions, frustration, old resentments, a desire for control. I could easily write a book on this topic alone.

elder stress

But one of my key findings is that, for us as family members and elder care practitioners, it’s easy for us to overlook two simple causes for an elder's resistance to treatment: low-level pain and a lack of pleasure in life.

Often, I try two simple solutions before looking for deeper causes:

• I prescribe 500 mg of Tylenol, three times a day. It’s amazing how much more cooperative people become when they’re not constantly burdened by arthritis, headaches, or other ignored pains they may be suffering.

• I prescribe ice cream. One of the difficult realities of growing older and of suffering from dementia is that it’s easy to go days and days without feeling pleasure or joy in life. Elders may lack the mobility or cognitive ability to participate in activities they once enjoyed, whether that’s bridge, golf, reading or needlework. But everyone, even the most frail and ill among us, can enjoy a dish of ice cream. There are even delicious ice creams for diabetics.

Of course, if these simple measures don’t work, more investigation is in order. But as a geriatric specialist, I’ve found that the power of simple over-the-counter painkillers and ice cream is undeniable. Let's allow our care practices to reflect our compassion.

Elizabeth Landsverk, M.D. Specialist in Geriatrics, ElderConsult Geriatric Medicine