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7 Tips for Talking to Elderly Parents

20 May 2021

AllsWell Team

First published in March 2018, updated on May 20, 2021

Parents accept their obsolescence with the best grace they can muster
Christopher Lasch, ''Haven in a Heartless World''



  1. Why Is It Important to Communicate with Your Elderly Parents?
  2. Why Is It so Hard Sometimes to Talk to Senior Parents?
  3. Expert Advice on Communication with Elderly Parents


Since time immemorial, the issue of the generation gap has hitchhiked from one century to another, afflicting one family after the other, and infiltrated every culture. The “rocky” relationship between different generations has been reflected in the world's literary history, philosophical essays, and modern pop culture. However, there is no a universal solution to the problem. We have to answer the question, “How should we talk to elderly parents?” by ourselves.


Why Is It Important to Communicate with Your Elderly Parents?

Let’s clear something up. Why is it actually so necessary to be on good terms with your aging parent?

The answer was given in research done by the University of California, San Francisco. The results showed that those seniors who had companions and communicated with others regularly lived longer than those who lived a lonely life. This study proves that the lives of our parents can be greatly extended through quality communication and our love!

The next factor is that we still need to be children at any age. Since our childhood, to our mind, our parents are Superman and Wonder Woman, Han Solo and Princess Leia… or Dumbledore and McGonagall. However, when our parents become older, in some situations they begin to show that they are, in fact, fallible human beings. The only for us to handle this is to start seeing them as real people, neither superheroes nor archenemies. The windy road to common ground lies in quality conversation. Therefore, let’s start considering how we talk to our senior parents.


Why Is It so Hard Sometimes to Talk to Senior Parents?

Coming from different galaxies. We cannot tell you how hard it could be to have a talk with a parent. The reason is that you and your parents are children of different eras. That implies distinctive mindsets and life values; different heroes, cartoons, and even the way to make sandwiches. That’s why it can be complicated to choose topics to talk to seniors about.

Who’s in charge now? Another reason why one cannot find common ground with a parent is a great desire to demonstrate superiority. A commanding voice instead of a kind request, irritation, and reproaches – such behavior would make anyone retreat into themselves, especially when criticism is directed at an adult male or woman with more than a half-century of experience under their belt. After all, there are plenty of ways to show your care in an unobtrusive way.

Lack of empathy. Some seniors are often in a bad mood due to health issues. That’s why we, for our part, have to be sympathetic to them and, in communicating with them, should consider this, although it can be irritating or differ from your typical method of conversation. You can also take care of the overall improvement in the health of the elderly: positive emotions are more valuable to them than many medications.


Expert Advice on Communication with Elderly Parents

So, what can we talk to seniors about, and most importantly, how?


Communicating with a Senior Parent. Tip #1. Resort to Ice Breakers

Begin communication with small talk. Then, ask questions. About health, their mood, some possible events since the last time you talked, noisy neighbors, politics, the economy and so on. We're sure your elderly parent would also gladly tell you some fascinating stories from the family history.


Communicating with a Senior Parent. Tip #2. Ask for Help

Make a point of asking for a piece of advice if you are having some troubles in your life.

“People in their seventies and beyond have lived through experiences many of us in the United States today can only imagine. Their lives have often included what the psychologist Juan Pascual-Leone has termed “ultimate limit situations.”...like illness, failure, oppression, loss, crushing poverty, and risking death in war” - Professor of Human Development Karl A. Pillemer.

This is especially true for seniors living alone. By asking them for a piece of advice, you give the priceless sense of purpose that encourages the elderly to live life to the fullest.


Communicating with a Senior Parent. Tip #3. Exclude Communication Breakdown

Connie Matthiessen, a senior editor that has worked as a healthcare and environmental journalist advises:

Be direct: If you find that interactions with your parents have become a dialogue of the deaf, tell them that you're frustrated; chances are they feel the same way. Clearing the air may help you find some common ground.”

She also adds:

When talking to your parents is consistently difficult, sometimes the best solution is to back off. If you continue to badger your parents, you'll only alienate them and frustrate yourself.


Communicating with a Senior Parent. Tip #4. Consider Age Issues

Stay patient in any case. In an article in Psychology Today, Preston Ni highlights the importance to stay calm if your loved one has dementia, is hearing impaired or physically challenged.

“It’s very helpful to put yourself in the senior’s shoes, even for just a moment. Consider the older adult you’re dealing with, and complete the sentence: 'It must not be easy…', or 'It must be hard…'.”


Communicating with a Senior Parent. Tip #5. Do not treat your parent like a baby

Dr. Kristine Williams points out in her research that such an attitude “begins a negative downward spiral for older persons, who react with decreased self-esteem, depression, withdrawal and the assumption of dependent behaviors.”

If you want to find a connection between you and your loved one, do not try to mansplain to him or her. In most cases, aging parents just need someone to treat them equally and explain what they still do not know. After all, they are still perfectly able to learn new things, start using new mobile apps (especially, the modern emergency & safety alerts or health applications could be of great help), or adopt a pet.


Communicating with a Senior Parent. Tip #6. Show Your World to Your Loved Ones

Before deciding that your parent can’t understand you and popular culture, try to show it to them. Start small. Tell your loved one about some popular movies or new books. Then, show them the world of technology. Suggest some options to get out of the house, for example, to go walking through a park or to drink coffee in your favorite cafe. The modern world is full of cool things and it would be unfair to deprive your loved one of them!

Communicating with a Senior Parent. Tip #7. Stay Respectful and Unobtrusive

There are things that you need to know or that you’re worried about, but asking all the time might turn into nagging or controlling behavior. Like, whether your elderly parents who live alone are doing okay, where are they going, when do they plan to be back, and so on.  Personal emergency and safety alert system like the AllsWell app is an unobtrusive and easy way to keep your peace of mind. No alerts mean that all is well, and should your parent remain inactive for an overly long, unusual period of time--you’ll receive an automated alert with their GPS location even if they’re unable to press the panic button.

Don’t miss the opportunity to try it for free 

For their part, AllsWell hopes you will always be on good terms with your parents, and remember that inside every senior lives a younger person similar to you.

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