Communication With Elderly

6 Surefire Ways to Communicate Effectively with Elderly Adults

Effective communication is essential to every relationship, particularly so in a caregiving situation. Often it is not what you say, but how you say it that determines how your message is received.

Here are some suggestions for improving your conversations with your elderly parents.

1. RESPECT your parents by treating them as your equals. Treat them as you wish them to treat you. Ask for, and value, their opinions.

2. LISTEN. Attentive listening requires participation, openness and receptivity. Listening is hard work.

  • Practice clarifying. Ask questions when you’re unsure. Instead of asking, “Why do you want to eat in your room?” try, “How is dining in your room more comfortable for you than going to the dining room?”
  • Make sure your message is understood. Try, “I’m not sure I’m being clear. What did you hear?”
  • Practice repeating. To minimize misunderstanding, summarize what you hear. “I heard you say...” or “I think are you telling me...”
  • Practice reflecting feelings. Let others know that you hear and understand their thoughts. Consider what someone is feeling but not saying. Empathy is important. Try, “If that happened to me, I’d be angry.”

3. THINK before responding. Don’t speak when you’re angry or upset. Silence can be startlingly effective. Try it.

Take time to rehearse before starting a potentially difficult conversation. Practice what you will say, and try to predict what the response will be.

4. DEVELOP an appropriate speaking style and body language. How you speak is just as important as what you say. Maintain eye contact. Enunciate clearly. Be positive and brief.

Radiate friendliness, concern for your parents’ well-being, and love. Avoid body language that could be construed negatively, such as grimaces, lip biting, rolling your eyes and fidgeting.

5. SET boundaries. You can refuse requests without rejecting your parents. You can say no to Mother when her requests are unreasonable, or when your circumstances are such that you cannot comply.

Ask, rather than complain. Complying with a request and then complaining about it later, whether to your parent, your spouse, or just to yourself, is grounds for resentment. Instead, ask if you could do it later or if someone else can do it.

6. PRAISE. Show appreciation for your parents, and let them know you realize that they tried to do the best they could. Acknowledge the good characteristics that they passed on to you, as well as the valuable things you learned from them. Praise them often and publicly!

Kay Paggi

As a licensed professional counselor, certified gerontological counselor, and certified geriatric care manager, Kay Paggi has provided empathetic and experienced assistance to older adults and their families for nearly 20 years. See full bio

over 1 year, said...

I am interested in knowing more about grief

about 5 years, said...

Thank you for this helpful article as it is not alway easy to communicate with aging parents as they deserve respect. )

about 5 years, said...

This was very helpful as it is sometimes hard to accept when our parents are older and kind of frustrating to try to communicate if they have alzheimers. It's not so easy to understand where they're coming from and want to help them without them thinking someone is trying to tell them what to do. They still deserve their independence and dignity. Thank you.

over 5 years, said...

I wish my sisters and I had this kind of information. We had know idea what was coming. It is so important for all of you adult children to prepare well before you begin to see the signs.

about 6 years, said...

I am a socialf coordiantor for the elderly community. I am looking for a "specialist" in the line of commuincating effectively to elderly & difficult people. Can anyone help? I am in AZ.

almost 7 years, said...

my parents are so difficuilt .i dont understand them and they dont understand my point of view.. i feel like they will never understand me no matter how hard i try.. :(

almost 7 years, said...

Six rules are cool!

about 7 years, said...

Both my aging parents are awesome and our family makes a point to show them or tell them often!

about 7 years, said...

Great tips to follow! Balanced with a support network--in-person or online support group to vent when times get really tough, we caregivers need to review these communication tips regularly as we integrate them into daily practice.

about 7 years, said...

the biggest barrier between older parents and adult children wanting to help them is that almost everything is heard by the parents as an accusation that they are not managing. the moment an adult child starts from personally owning his or her own anxiety, the whole dialogue works better.