7 Tips How to Talk to Elderly Parents

AllsWell Team

First published in March 2018, updated on April 13, 2022

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




Generation gap issues have affected people for ages, afflicting one family after another. However, there is still no universal solution to the problem. We have to answer the question, "How should we talk to elderly parents?" by ourselves.

If you want advice on things to talk about with the elderly, this article should be helpful. Here we share seven tips on what to talk to old people about. Follow them to enjoy a warmer relationship with your senior loved ones. 

Why Is It Important to Communicate with Your Elderly Parents?

Let's clear something up before discussing how to communicate effectively with elderly patients. Why is it actually so necessary to be on good terms with your aging parent?

The research by the University of California, San Francisco, provides an answer. 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 communication and our care can greatly extend the lives of our parents!

The next factor is that we still need parental love at any age. Since childhood, parents have been our superheroes who can protect us from any problems. However, when they become older, in some situations, they begin to show that they are, in fact, fallible human beings. The only way 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.

Finally, the parent's end of life is your last chance to unresolve any parent issues. If you don't communicate with your mother or father while they are still alive, you lose an opportunity to clear things up and say important things like, "I wished you spent time with me when I was a kid more often." Unfortunately, when a parent dies, the feelings of resentment accumulated throughout your life don't go away. Hence, you'd better communicate with senior parents while you have time.

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

Coming from different galaxies. It could be extremely hard to have a talk with a parent. The reason is that you and your parents belong to different generations. 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 consider their poor health while communicating (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.

How to Talk to Senior Parents? Expert Advice

Even though communication with elderly parents is important, you must remember that it’s not an obligation. Too much pressure can make you hate every meeting with seniors, which will only harm.

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

How to talk with elderly parents. Tip #1. Use 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, etc. We're sure your elderly parents would also gladly tell you some fascinating stories from your family history.

In most cases, seniors only want someone to talk to. You don't need ways to entertain them or to lead the conversation. Sit back and listen to their stories, asking some questions or sharing news from time to time.

How to communicate with elderly parents. 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. They feel valued and see that their opinion still matters.

Besides, asking the senior person for specific advice helps you channel their efforts. It means they will be less likely to intrude and give you recommendations on the aspects of your life you don’t want to share with them. It’s a win-win scenario that ensures the balance between your privacy and quality communication with the elderly.

How to talk to seniors. Tip #3. Reduce 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."

We believe it's a great piece of advice on how to talk to senior parents. Many adults still feel intimidated when they need to openly share their dissatisfaction with their parents. It comes from childhood when they were dependent on their parents and couldn't speak up.

Adulthood is the time to establish equal relationships and directly communicate about everything.

How to talk to your elderly parents. Tip #4. Consider Age Issues

Stay patient in any case. In Psychology Today, Preston Ni highlights the importance of staying calm if your loved one has dementia, is hearing impaired, or is 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…'." 

Seniors often feel devastated because they cannot do what they did before. They have turned from breadwinners for their families to people dependent on external help. Imagine how challenging it may be to adapt to the switching roles and the weakened health.

How to talk to elders. Tip #5. Do not treat your parent like a baby

In her research, Dr. Kristine Williams points out that such an attitude leads to lowered self-esteem and dependent behaviors among seniors.

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

How to talk to people older than you. Tip #6. Share Your World

Before deciding that your parents 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, walking through a park or drinking 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!

Showing what you like and how you live will strengthen the connection between your parents and cheer up the seniors. They may even find new hobbies or interests to stay more active.

How to talk to senior parents. Tip #7. Stay Respectful and Unobtrusive

You may worry about your parents, but asking them all the time will turn into nagging or controlling behavior. It will harm your relationships and make seniors irritated.

A personal emergency and safety alert system like the AllsWell app is an unobtrusive and easy way to keep your peace of mind. If your parent remains inactive for an overly long, unusual period, the app will send you an automated alert with their GPS location. The app also has a panic button for instant alerts in emergencies. When the user gets in trouble, they click the button to notify selected contacts about the problem. No alerts mean that all is well.

Don’t miss the opportunity to try it for free now and keep using the app for $9.99//month.

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