7 Communication Techniques for Talking to Elderly Parents

52 Comments

Caregiving results in major changes in a family: physical, emotional, social and financial issues can arise. It changes the roles, responsibilities and feelings within the family, which can lead to tension and fighting. Caregivers in the AgingCare.com community frequently support each other with "tricks of the trade" when it comes to effective communication with elderly parents.

We would like to share this knowledge, gained from caregiving day-in and day-out, with you. It doesn't always work, and it won't be easy, but we hope it helps you to cope and try to maintain or repair family relationships – and help you keep your sanity during your caregiving journey!

Don't Give Advice Unless It's Asked For

Parents have advised their children their whole lives, so hearing advice from a child – albeit an adult child - might not go over so well. That parent-child role reversal is hard on the parent. Therefore, giving advice is best avoided unless you are sure it has been asked for. It is generally better to let an outside person be the advisor. You can encourage and provide support, without doling out advice.

Listen to What Your Elderly Parent is Saying

Really listen. Listen to what the person is saying. Don't interrupt or try to fill in the silence. A period of silence could mean your family member is contemplating a response, thinking through the conversation and how to reply. Listening goes both ways, so try to determine that the person is hearing what you say.

Accept Differences of Opinions

No matter how close a family is, and despite the dynamics involved, everyone is not going to agree all of the time. There is sure to be differences of opinions. Respect the opinions of others; don't disregard them. Listen to all sides, and make a decision together when possible.

Speak Distinctly

Some older adults do not like to admit that they cannot hear or understand the conversation around them. The higher pitch of women's voices may be a problem for older adults; consciously think to lower the voice pitch. Remain calm and talk in a gentle, matter-of-fact way, keep sentences short and simple, focusing on one idea at a time.

Don't Condescend

Make sure your attempt to "turn up the volume" and slow down your speaking patterns doesn't come across as condescending. Even if your parent suffers from dementia or extreme hearing loss, don't speak to them as you speak to a child. Patronizing is a sure way to start an argument.

Choose the Right Environment

Avoid competing noise or activities such as TV or radio. Face the person as you talk to them. When talking in a group, make sure that the elder is not on the end of the row. It is better to place the senior in the middle so that the conversation is around them. Or perhaps a quiet walk works best for your elderly parent.

Consider What It Is Like To Be Old

Most seniors experience a series of losses during their later years and are trying desperately to stay in control of themselves and their environment. Letting others help feels to them like giving away control of things.

Pick Your Battles

Most elderly face multiple challenges as a result of growing older. The most common include mobility limitations, decreased stamina, living alone and memory problems. You will need to prioritize the issues you want to address and hope for small victories.

Laugh When you Can

Laughter really is the best medicine. Even in a difficult and stressful caregiving situation, there are some humorous moments. A shared laugh can ease tension while building closeness. However, be sure to laugh with your family, not at their expense.

You May Also Like

Free AgingCare Guides

Get the latest care advice and articles delivered to your inbox!

52 Comments

you have to talk about whats on their mind as they cant hold a thought for long .
sometimes i sit outside NH with my aunt and we dont even need words . she comments on the pretty flowers , rabbits and squirrels and i puff on my tobacco pipe . my aunt lost her hearing aid and is nearly deaf . if im going to freshen up her tea glass i wield the glass in my hand and emphasize FRESH ICE .. key words , body language ..
our first visit to doc resulted in nurses giving me some orders for tests . i bent down and explained to edna that doc wanted to ct her lungs again after the pneumonia . it keeps her not only in the loop but very content and in control .
do not take control from the elder . you will have a battle on your hands tha you cant win . they are 90 years street smart , treat them as your intellectual superior because they are ..
I wish I could say that this article helped. Communicating with people whose minds are no longer as sharp as they once were is a huge challenge for even the most patient person. When my husband and I started noticing concerning behaviors in his parents, we didn't say anything because our opinions were not being solicited. So we just watched while his parents made bad choices. Not surprisingly their poor choices had serious consequences including landing in the ER. These bad consequences just made them both more depressed and anxious. So they continued to pretend that life could go on just as it always had. And they made us so miserable that we started to spend less time with them. I don't believe anything good comes from humoring our elders and not being honest with them. I should mention that neither of my in-laws is demented or anything like that.
Just a thought on reagor's mom. Dementia pts. often make their own memories when they can't remember the past. They can watch something on tv and it will become their reality. Like watching a travel show and they will remember it as a place that they truly visited. Also, they will invent their own language. I don't mean complete language but just a few words or a phrase. My dad does all of this. I don't ever argue or correct him. What's the point. He wouldn't remember my correcting him. And besides, I won't waste my energy on that. One must choose their battles wisely.