7 Communication Techniques for Talking to Elderly Parents

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 advise. 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. By Marlo Sollitto, for agingcare.com Starlight Caregivers