Caregiving results in major changes in a family: physical, emotional, social and financial issues can arise. It changes the roles, responsibilities and feelings within the family, which can lead to tension and fighting. Caregivers in the AgingCare.com community frequently support each other with “tricks of the trade” when it comes to effective communication with elderly parents.
We would like to share this knowledge, gained from caregiving day-in and day-out, with you. It doesn’t always work, and it won’t be easy, but we hope it helps you to cope and try to maintain or repair family relationships – and help you keep your sanity during your caregiving journey!
Don’t try to change them
When we were children, the adults were driving us mad with stories about a boy in the neighborhood who had better marks at school and listened to his parents. As they grow older, we repay in kind: “Look, your neighbor walks every day, and you always sit at home.“
Don’t try to lecture them. You cannot change them at this age. We can only accept them as they are. If a person has been smoking to the age of 80, they probably won’t give up. As one of my elderly wards jokes, ”I’m doing my breathing exercises until the pack is empty.”
Don’t Give Advice Unless It’s Asked For
Parents have advised their children their whole lives, so hearing advice from a child – albeit an adult child – might not go over so well. That parent-child role reversal is hard on the parent. Therefore, giving advice is best avoided unless you are sure it has been asked for. It is generally better to let an outside person be the advisor. You can encourage and provide support, without doling out advise
Some older adults do not like to admit that they cannot hear or understand the conversation around them. The higher pitch of women’s voices may be a problem for older adults; consciously think to lower the voice pitch. Remain calm and talk in a gentle, matter-of-fact way, keep sentences short and simple, focusing on one idea at a time..
Don’t blame yourself
Guilt haunts everyone. Whatever happens, there’s always a feeling that you’ve failed — failed to finish something, to give, to behave properly with your parents. Don’t blame yourself. Time is guilty.
We must take care of ourselves and learn to relax. If you live your life for an elderly person, you’ll end up being blamed for how your life turned out. Why didn’t you get married? Why don’t you have children?
Make sure your attempt to “turn up the volume” and slow down your speaking patterns doesn’t come across as condescending. Even if your parent suffers from dementia or extreme hearing loss, don’t speak to them as you speak to a child. Patronizing is a sure way to start an argument.
Don’t come in to conflict
The aggression of elderly people comes from dissatisfaction. When you take the cause of the aggression, when you’re smiling at your elderly relatives and don’t respond to their attacks, the aggression fades. If you answer to their aggression, you’re lost.
You must be able to change the subject. Try to change the topic to a calm conversation with your parents. This exercise will help in cases of conflict.
Don’t wait for communication to be a pleasure
I’ve been working with elderly people for 15 years. When they start to blow my mind, I try to stay calm, and then realize I have no reasons to bear grudges: they’re not just our parents, they are you and me in 20, 30, 40 years.
There are lots of moments when I really want to talk back. One of my wards made me buy her a heavy piece of wood, and we’ve been making a sculpture of it for two years. She was constantly complaining about me: look what a difficult task he gave me. I heard it all, and I didn’t answer. I couldn’t remind her it was she who asked for it — she simply didn’t remember. When you know who you’re dealing with, everything becomes much easier.
Show compassion, but don’t be sorry for them
Compassion is crucially important. Yet you need to distinguish between compassion and pity — they’re heaven and earth. Pity disarms us: feeling sorry for a person, we are unable to help. But compassion can be different, even cynical or active.
Be the one who rocks
They want us to be successful. If I come to my parents and start complaining, they already cannot help me. So I divided the two truths: there’s a good truth and the truth they should never know. Our well-being is the key to their success, and you should bear it in mind all the time.
Know their technical characteristics
We should know exactly who we’re dealing with. It’s necessary to understand what it means when a person cannot see, hear, or stand up. To understand a blind person, try putting yourself in their place: at least try drawing in the dark.
Control the experience
When we want to protect an elderly person from fraud, all the tips are associated with the strengthening of the defense: to get an iron door, camera, forbid them to approach the door. In fact, the answer is very simple: you need to keep them busy.
You should know what a person likes and give them something to do. My aunt, for example, liked to reprint the poems of Shakespeare on an old computer. Another friend of mine, an 80-year-old lady, cannot hear anything, but she knows five swimming styles and likes spending time in a pool.
It’s important that you learn to leave grudges in the past. It’s like a computer: you have to reboot it and start working again. If today you don’t forgive your grandfather, tomorrow may be too late.
We should be strong to forgive. Personally, I made up a “5-minute” technique: I walk out of the room and sit somewhere for 5 minutes, thinking about nothing. Then I come back with renewed vigor to be compassionate again.
Accept Differences of Opinions
No matter how close a family is, and despite the dynamics involved, everyone is not going to agree all of the time. There is sure to be differences of opinions. Respect the opinions of others; don’t disregard them. Listen to all sides, and make a decision together when possible.