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How to Communicate with Aging Parents

Depending on health needs, life circumstances, and other changes, communicating with an aging parent can be difficult. It might seem like you can’t connect with them like you used to and that there’s always some kind of miscommunication or frustration popping up.

There are a few changes you can make to your communication approaches to mitigate this. Make sure to check out our tips below to give yourself some ideas on how you can improve conversations with your parent.

4 Ways to Better Communicate with an Aging Parent

1. Ask Instead of Assume

When dealing with communication issues, you might feel that it’s easier to just assume what your parents want and insist on solutions you deem appropriate. While this is 100% unintentional, doing this can actually make communication worse and make your parent feel that you’re being overbearing.

Asking for your parent’s opinion, about their feelings, or for them to choose something will make them feel like they’re still taking the lead and that they’re actually collaborating with you. This can create more openness and willingness to keep communication efforts flowing.

2. Agree to Disagree

When communicating, differing opinions may come up. Arguing or becoming frustrated will only make communication efforts harder, so the best thing you can do is agree to disagree. This will show your parent that you’re willing to put differences aside because you care more about their feelings and their well-being than having to feel correct. 

Because this can be difficult mid-conversation, don’t be afraid to step back and just take a few moments to stay calm and recollect yourself.

3. Choose the Right Conditions

Sufficient communication can’t happen in a less-than-satisfactory environment. When you try to force it during the wrong moments, it can cause miscommunication, frustration from your parent, etc.

When choosing the appropriate conditions for creating better communication, consider the following:

  • When is your parent most awake?
  • Does your parent like being talked to during meals or when they have designated personal time?
  • Do they have a daily routine that they must follow?
  • What situations make them feel comfortable and safe?
  • What situations make them feel frazzled or uncomfortable?

4. Listen and Understand Their Feelings

It can’t be stressed enough how important listening and empathizing with an older adult is. Even if you comprehend everything that’s going on with them, they’re feeling and thinking different things that you may not even be aware of.

When working on communication, you’ll want to make a conscious effort to have your parent lead conversations and talk about their emotions while you just sit, listen, and let them know that you can understand why they’re feeling a certain way. Make sure to ask open-ended questions and try to not take the lead or add input unless necessary.

Additional Resources

Caring for a Parent That’s Resisting Help

Addressing the Communication Needs of an Aging Society



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