It can be frightening and painful to see someone you love struggling to care for themselves. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your loved one’s home has become much messier than it used to be, or that they are wearing stained, dirty clothes. Maybe it’s clear that they haven’t had a bath for a while, or when you open the refrigerator, there’s hardly any food inside. Or perhaps your loved one has suffered a recent fall or you’ve seen a pan burning unattended on the stove.

Sometimes, declines can happen gradually or a sudden change in health or a significant loss can trigger problems. Whatever the reason, if you’re worried about a loved one’s safety or the condition of their home, it’s important to broach the subject carefully.

Express your concerns as your own, without accusing. An older loved one might be more open to your honest expressions of concern. For example, instead of saying “It’s clear you can’t take care of yourself anymore. Something needs to be done,” try “I’ve really been worried about you. It hurts me to think that you might not be getting everything you need. What do you think we should do?”

Respect your loved one’s autonomy and involve them in decisions. Unless your loved one is incapacitated, the final decision about care is up to them. You can help by offering suggestions and ideas for home care services. If you’re worried that home care might not be enough, what other options are available? You can frame it as something to try temporarily instead of trying to impose a permanent solution.

Try to find the real reasons behind any resistance. A loved one who’s resistant to receiving help could be frightened that they are no longer able to do tasks that were formerly so easy. It might be more comfortable to deny it and minimize any problems. Perhaps they’re grieving the loss of a loved one, or frustrated at not being able to connect with friends as easily as they once did. Or maybe they’re uncomfortable with the idea of having outsiders in their home.

Enlist the help of others. Does your loved one know others who have used home care services? Talking to others who have had positive experiences can sometimes help remove fear of the unknown. Sometimes hearing feedback from an unbiased third party, such as a doctor or geriatric care manager, can help a loved one realize that things need to change.