For many people, caring for their elderly parents is a great challenge. Even if you have a wonderful connection with your parents, the nature of your rapport changes as you both get older, and it can be difficult to navigate the changing landscape of your relationship. Not only do you need to take on the stressful job of caretaking, which can cause resentment, your parent is also adapting to a new world in which they are the person receiving care, not caring for others, so they may have some confusing feelings of their own to process. As you transition into this new type of relationship, it is imperative that your communication is clear. This will ensure that you experience less stress, your parent has a better quality of life, and your relationship remains intact. In this blog, we will go over some communication tips for caring for your elderly parent.

Practice Patience and Empathy

When it comes to caring for the elderly, one of the most important things you can do for you and your parent is practice patience. Your elderly parent may face difficulty moving, move slowly, forget things often, act “needy,” or be apathetic to life. All of these behaviors can be frustrating, but don’t give up on them just yet. These are perfectly normal reactions to what your parent is going through, so try putting yourself in their shoes. When your parent is moving slowly and getting out the door feels like it is taking forever, take a moment to think about why they are moving slowly and how that would feel for you. For example, if they have arthritis, you might take a beat to picture the amount of pain they are experiencing. If your parent is expressing apathy, you might think about how it must feel to get older and have everything in your life change as your friends pass away. When you empathize with your parent, you will feel more patient with them. If you start to feel worn too thin, make sure to take time away from your parent to regroup so you can approach them with a calmer frame of mind.

Ask, Don’t Tell

It is incredibly important to help your senior parent maintain their dignity and independence so that they feel respected. This central need is among the most crucial to meet for your parent’s happiness and quality of life. You have the opportunity to reinforce your parent’s sense of autonomy on a daily basis by asking instead of telling. To meet this need, don’t order your parent around; instead, phrase what you have to say in question form. Instead of saying, “We’re eating sandwiches for lunch today,” ask, “Would you like a sandwich for lunch today?” Better yet, offer an option, such as, “Would you like a sandwich or salad today?” This may seem like a small gesture, but it will mean a lot to your parent to be able to have that autonomy. This will make them feel a sense of respect and regard. Being able to make small decisions makes them feel a greater sense of control over their lives.

Don’t Make Assumptions

One of the worst obstacles to healthy communication is making assumptions. When you assume the way your parent feels or how they will react to your behavior, you’re being dismissive of how they really feel, which will interfere with their sense of autonomy. When you take action that has a direct impact on them, don’t assume that they will be okay with it. For example, don’t just turn off the lights when you say “goodnight” to your parent, assuming that is what they want. Instead, let them know you plan on turning off the light. Additionally, don’t assume that you know what your parent wants or needs; ask them!

Use “I” Statements

Using “I” statements is important for communicating with anyone, but particularly for when you are speaking with your elderly parent. When you use “you” statements (i.e. “You need to take your medicine right now!”), it comes off as condescending. This will make it feel like you are bossing your parent around, which will cause them to resent you and respond with problem behaviors such as arguing with you, avoiding you, or completely shutting down. Avoid using “you” statements and instead use “I,” “we,” or “this” statements so you come off as less pushy. Some examples include:

  • “It’s important that you take your medicine.”
  • “I will help you with your exercises.”
  • “We should get some fresh air.”
  • “Let’s finish our lunch, okay?”

These types of statements are less likely to make your parent feel defensive, giving them the opportunity to react in a more open way to what you are saying.

Offer Choices

If your parent is physically or cognitively limited in some way, it can be particularly difficult for them to be able to maintain their independence. They may feel helpless and completely out of control of their lives. You can give them a sense of agency over their environment by giving them choices. When it is appropriate, offer your parent any type of choice you can, even if it is as simple as the choice between eggs or oatmeal for breakfast. If your parent is cognitively impaired and cannot realistically make most decisions, even something as small as choosing which cup to drink out of can give them a greater sense of control. It is important to instill in your senior parent a greater confidence in themselves by giving them the ability to exercise choice, however small that choice may be.

At Your Healing Touch, we have extensive experience offering compassionate elder care. If you need help with the care of your senior parent, we can help. Our in-home health aides are specially trained to provide the level of care your parent needs to remain autonomous and comfortable in their own home. If you need help with elder care in Indianapolis, contact us for in-home health care.