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How to give advice to elderly parents (50+)


Larry Carlson


family and relationships

Larry Carlson, the President and CEO of United Methodist Communities, has over 40 years of diverse experience in multiple aspects of eldercare administration including CCRC, long term skilled nursing, post-acute rehabilitation, congregate housing, adult day health, and assisted living with particular expertise in operations, strategic planning, board development, new project design and development, and construction and start-up.

As we get older, many of us make the transition from being cared for by our parents to becoming the caregiver.  As our parents age, we take on more and more responsibility for their medical, financial and well-being.  This can be a major change in the family dynamic.  Physical, emotional, social, and financial issues can arise affecting the roles responsibilities and feelings of each family member.  This can lead to increased tension and frequent disagreements.  The strategy to navigate this dynamic is effective and timely communication.


·         Communicate early on.  Talking about elder care doesn’t need to be a serious and lengthy conversation from the start.  Chat with parents early on about what they envision for themselves and what you can do to help them achieve their plan.


·         Don’t give advice unless it’s asked for.  Parents have guided and advised their children their whole lives.  This role-reversal can be hard for the parent to accept.  Therefore, giving advice is best avoided unless you are sure it has been requested.  It’s generally better to let a neutral outside party be the advisor.  That way you can provide encouragement and support.


·         Listen to what your parent has to say.  Really listen to what your parent is saying.  Don’t interrupt them. Allow them to consider their response.  Listening goes both ways, so try to determine that the person is hearing what you say as well.


·         Accept differences of opinion.  No matter how tightknit a family is, everyone is not going to agree all of the time.  Respect others’ opinions. Listen to all sides and try to compromise when a decision must be made.


·         Don’t wait for a crisis.  For many of us, its easier to ignore these issues while are our parents are healthy and independent, but this can mean trouble when serious issues do arise.  Instead, keep a casual but meaningful ongoing conversation in which everyone is involved. Have the conversation at home on their “turf.”  Acknowledge that it isn’t easy to discuss these issues but explain that it’s important to understand what they envision for themselves and then start planning so that you and your family can work together to achieve it.


·         Be honest. Many families have trouble communicating their fears and concerns and parents often feel uncomfortable talking about their loss of independence making them a burden on the family.  By bringing up the subject in a non-confrontational way, you may be surprised at their response. Talking honestly will help you get a better understanding of how they are really coping - - managing the house, looking after a spouse, or if they are becoming lonely and isolated as friends move away.    


·         Don’t be condescending.  As you “turn up the volume” and slow down your speech pattern, make sure you don’t come across as condescending. Being patronizing will usually lead to an argument.


·         Don’t gang up and let the issue escalate.  As a potentially emotional and stressful conversation, it’s important it doesn’t escalate into an argument.  Use a calm and relaxed tone of voice. Listen to what your parent wants, rather then giving ultimatums or talking over them.  Highlight the positives.


·         Pick your battles.  Many seniors face growing challenges as they age, including mobility, decreased stamina, loneliness. and memory problems. Prioritize the issues you want to address and celebrate small victories one at a time.


·         Ask questions.  Ask your parent about their life.  There’s no better way to become closer to person, even if you’ve known them since you were born, than to ask.


·         Laugh.  Keep it light. Humorous moments can arise even in the most difficult and stressful situations. Be open to the opportunity to lighten things up and take things a little less seriously. A shared laugh can ease tensions.  

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