The Does and Don’t of Communicating with an Ageing Parent

For most of us, a time will come when we need to deal with the fact that our parents are getting old, and their health is not in the same condition it was once. This can be an incredibly stressful time for both you and your parent. One of the keys to dealing with this effectively is learning how to communicate properly with your elderly parent. Of course, this is a lot easier said than done when dealing with such a sensitive subject. However, below, you will find out about the do’s and don’ts of communicating with an ageing parent, which should help you to find the whole process a lot easier.


  • Pick your battles – There are a number of challenges that seniors face when they get older, and so you need to know when to pick a battle. Some of the challenges include memory problems, loneliness, decreased stamina, and mobility limitations. Of course, you want to make sure that your loved one is cared for, however, if you attempt to tackle every single issue, they are only going to feel embarrassed and it can be like you are patronising them. Instead, you need to prioritise issues and take things one-step at a time.
  • Think about what it is like to be older – It is important to put yourself in your parent’s shoes. Imagine what it is like for your elderly parent. They are trying to stay in control of their environment and themselves, but they probably feel like they are slowly losing touch of it. This is why you need to do your best to make sure they are involved in all of the decisions and conversations you have.
  • Pick the right environment – You should not have important or in-depth conversations in settings where there is a lot of distracting activities and competing noise. Make sure the radio and TV are turned off.
  • Be calm – The last thing you want is a discussion about your parent’s health and future to turn into an argument. Before broaching the subject, take a deep breath and work on staying patient. Even if someone says something that infuriates you, you need to be able to accept it and deal with it calmly. Make sure you frame your thoughts so that you can focus on being respectful and sensitive.
  • Be prepared for the discussion to end before you want it to – It is unlikely that you are going to get the answers to all of the questions you have in the first discussion. In fact, you may find that you don’t end up with any answers at all. This is frustrating, but you need to accept it, and then try again at a later date. This is a monumental area of discussion, and it’s only natural that everything won’t be resolved in an instant.


  • Make them feel like they are giving away control – This is the number one ‘don’t’ in the list! The main battle with an elderly parent is the fact that they feel like they are giving up control. They don’t want to lose the life they have, and they don’t want to lose their ability to make decisions and do things for themselves. Plus, they have looked after you their entire life and made decisions for you – most parents aren’t so happy when the roles reverse. So, never make your parent feel like you are making up their mind for them. This is especially the case if you are considering a home or assisted living for your parent. You can contact for more information on this and how to go about suggesting it. Even if you are effectively making a decision for your parent, make it appear like it’s your parent’s decision. You can do this by encouraging them to consider something, but letting them have the final word.
  • Refuse to accept other people’s opinions – There is no right or wrong when it comes to caring for an ageing parent. No matter how tight knight your family is, there are going to be moments where not everyone agrees. You need to respect other people’s opinions, just as you want yours to be respected. Listen to all sides and try to meet a happy medium wherever possible.
  • Rushing your parent or assuming you know what they are thinking – You should never rush your parent to make a decision. You need to think about just how huge and important this is for them. It’s an incredibly difficult and upsetting period in their life, and they need time to think about it. Don’t rush them to come to a decision. Also, don’t assume that you know what their decision is. This is one of the worst things you can do. Give them time to speak, and if they don’t, wait or bring it up another time.
  • Don’t go off subject into old issues – When getting the family together, and dealing with such a sensitive topic, it can be easy for other sensitive topics and conversations to be brought. Going into the past is not helpful at a time like this. Having a “someone has to win” attitude or holding a grudge against someone will never reap results, and your parent will assume their health is a cause of conflict and they won’t want to discuss it again.

Hopefully, you now feel more prepared for communicating with your elderly parent. Of course, this is a difficult time and it is not easy to talk about something so sensitive. However, if you follow the advice that has been mentioned above, and you make sure your parent feels like they are still in control of their own life, you should find that your conversations are a lot more fruitful and you can both come to decisions that help your loved one.

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About Author

Hazel Jane

Hazel Jane is a freelance writer, university student, and an avid reader. She has a passion for writing, skiing, and traveling the world.

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