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Effective Communication Tips for Talking to Elderly Parents

Posted by Village Green Team on Jul 23, 2019 9:28:53 AM

Caring for aging parents can feel more difficult as the years go on. When elderly parents begin showing signs that they can no longer care for themselves or manage their own affairs independently, the entire family dynamic is upended. Choosing to join a retirement community with assisted living services such as Village Green Retirement Campus can extend a loved one’s independence. But at some point, our parents experience a decline in ability and a role reversal with younger members of our families.

Effective Communication Tips for Talking with Elderly Parents

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It might happen gradually over time, or it might happen because of a sudden health crisis, but the consequences to both an aging parent and caregiver are often physical, emotional, social and financial. When roles and responsibilities within the family change, it can easily lead to misunderstandings, tension and conflict. Especially since the loss of independence that parents may feel during this time represents one of seniors’ top fears.

Related: The Importance of Visiting Your Elderly Loved One

Before we discuss effective communication tips for those with elderly parents, let these three important suggestions guide your approach to pushing through the barriers when communicating with the elderly: 


Listen, Tell, Ask

Listen to Your Elderly Parent’s Concerns 

Listen to what they’re saying and acknowledge the fact that they need to be in control of the decision. Whether it's going to another doctor, ignoring their diet or playing cards until midnight, the choice is theirs. By placing the decision squarely in your parent's hands, you will diffuse much of the confrontation before it begins.

Tell Them Your Opinion

Tell them what you think is getting out of control. If you think their doctor is missing something about their overall health or prescribing too many medications, let your parent know they are losing control of this part of their life. The key is to be impartial; this is your opinion and not your decision. 

Ask What Your Elderly Parents Think

Ask them how they think they can regain control, and explain your ideas that might help them to do so. Be respectful and listen to what they say; your parent might not consider the point a problem at all and they have that right. On the other hand, they may know the problem is arising but are afraid to face it or they may want your input but don't want to give up the decision-making control.

In this article, we discuss how to talk to elderly parents, including how to talk to a parent with dementia. By using Listen, Tell, Ask, you can have productive conversations that respect your parents’ boundaries. We also discuss how to deal with the difficult emotions associated with the change in family dynamics associated with aging parents.


How to Talk to Elderly Parents

Here is a list of seven suggestions for communicating with the elderly and keep peace in the family while navigating through this next phase of life.

1. Don't Give Advice Unless It's Asked For

If you are tempted to give advice, see if you can ask a question instead. None of us like to be told what to do, so planting a suggestion and letting your parent mull over his or her choices might be a more effective strategy. If you think your parent needs to hear a hard truth, (such as it might be time to give up the car) it might be better to have a third party, like a family physician, start the discussion.

2. Listen to What Your Elderly Parent Is Saying

Really listen and give your loved one time to finish his or her thoughts. It could well be that he or she is ambivalent and needs time to think things through. Don’t rush to interrupt or put words in their mouth. You might even paraphrase what they’ve just said to show that you heard and understood them.

3. Accept Differences of Opinions

No matter how close a family is, there will be differences of opinion. That does not mean one person is “right” and the other is “wrong”, nor is it a sign that your family is on the brink of collapse. You aren’t looking for the right answer so much as the answer that works best at the time for the people involved.

4. Respect the Aging Process

People sometimes say that growing old is the early life cycle in reverse, with the elderly becoming more dependent or child-like. But that analogy isn’t very helpful. For one thing, many adults do stay cognitively sharp until they die, and for another, every parent has been a child, but adult children have not had to face their own mortality the way their parents do. Don’t assume you know how your parent is feeling, because you don’t.

5. Financial Conversations

While your parent is still independent, he or she may be reluctant to share financial information with you. You can stress that you want to understand the situation so that you can help them protect their assets and plan for the years ahead, but if they don’t want to have that money discussion with you, suggest that they meet with a reputable financial planner.

6. Communicating with Your Siblings

Coordinating care among siblings is a difficult, but necessary task. Communication is essential to avoid resentment or hard feelings, especially when one or more siblings live close and do the majority of work caring for aging parents. This situation is one in which a third party such as a clinical social worker or a geriatric care manager can help make a plan to keep everyone informed.

7. Authority and Control

While we talk of growing old gracefully, giving up control and independence is difficult, messy work. Professionals advise that it is often best to bring up conversations about financial and medical power of attorney (they are different designations) when your parent is still healthy and independent. Just as you designated someone to care for your young children if you became incapacitated, your parent needs to designate someone to handle his or her affairs if or when it becomes necessary.


Tips for Communicating with Parents with Dementia

In instances where your parent develops dementia or simple forgetfulness, you can still treat them with respect and give them as much freedom as possible. While you may have to take over certain decisions, you can find little ways of allowing them to act like the adult they are. Perhaps a simple choice such as choosing the blue shirt or the red shirt will make them feel like a part of the decision-making process.

At APlaceForMom.com we found a great list of 10 tips on how to communicate with an aging parent who has moderate to severe dementia.

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Dealing with Tough Emotions as Your Parents Age

Emotions run high as a parent ages and is no longer able to do everything independently. These tough feelings are prevalent for both the elderly parent and the adult child. Learning how to deal with these emotions can make your parent’s life more enjoyable in spite of the circumstances.

Emotions for the Parent

Put yourself in your parent’s shoes for a minute. He or she has always been independent and taken care of the family, including you. Now, your parent must rely on assistance from others. The loss of independence can breed resentment, anger, feelings of loneliness, or even depression. Try to understand that your parent isn’t really angry or upset with you, but rather with the situation.

The best way to deal with these emotions is to let mom or dad know it is okay to feel angry or upset. Allow your parent to talk about their frustrations without trying to fix the problem. After having had the opportunity to release those feelings, you can work together to find a resolution. In some instances, nothing can be changed, but validating those emotions makes a person feel heard and enables them to accept the new situation.

Worry and guilt also play a role in your parent’s feelings. Mom or dad may be anxious about the future and what the next step should be. Perhaps there’s some guilt over burdening their loved ones or being unable to care for an aging spouse. It’s essential to talk through these emotions with your loved one to help them accept the circumstances and the impact it has on their mental health.

Emotions for the Adult Child

As you work to deal with your aging parent’s emotions, you have your own to work through, as well. You may feel a sense of loss because your parent is no longer able to do everything he or she once could. It often hits you in a single moment that your parent is “old”, even though the loss of independence and capabilities is gradual. Your feelings threaten to overwhelm you, even as you know you must deal with the current situation.

Allow yourself time to grieve. Though your parent is still living, you’ve lost a part of them in their role as leader of the family. You’ll continue to experience this sense of loss as mom or dad becomes more limited in their abilities and mental functioning.

Additionally, you’ll experience the same emotions as your parent: anger, resentment, worry and guilt. Each one must be dealt with rather than buried inside. If you handle these feelings in the right way, you’ll be healthier emotionally and mentally. You will also be able to adjust well to the changing circumstances.


Communication is Key When Caring for Aging Parents

At Village Green Retirement Campus we see families every day who are finding ways to connect with their loved ones despite the challenge of aging and shifting family dynamics. It’s hard work, but even the small victories can make a huge difference.

Here at Village Green, we understand the importance of helping preserve the dignity of seniors. We treat each resident with respect and ensure they have an active voice in their care as much as possible. Stop in for a visit to learn more about our community and how we may be the perfect place for your loved one.

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