Winter 2018–2019

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10 things you should never say to your aging parent

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Bite Your Tongue!

We don't mean to hurt our parents, but sometimes our words hit a nerve. We blurt out comments in frustration or belittle our parents with criticism.

Before you say any of these phrases, hold your tongue or try a different approach.

1. “You Just Said That.”

It's common for older adults to repeat stories. Take a deep breath and listen as if it's the first time. Or, say with a smile, "Yes! And then you did X, right?"

2. “What Does That Have To Do With Anything?”

One minute you're telling Mom about your promotion, the next she's telling you what Ida across the hall said about her grandkids. If it's important, steer the conversation back to the original topic. Otherwise, just proceed with Mom’s story and ask her questions about her conversation with Ida.

3. “Why Can't You Remember?”

We all forget names. If your parent forgets important events and names repeatedly, it could indicate Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia. Don't criticize. Gently remind.

4. “Don't Talk So Loud!”

If your parent has a hearing impairment, he may not realize how loudly he's talking. If you’re in a public place where the loud voice might be a problem, simply nod in agreement instead of responding with your voice. Hopefully, your parent will get the hint. If not, politely mention that you’ll pick up the conversation shortly.

5. Wake Up!

Who hasn't fallen asleep in the theater or concert hall? Gently nudge your snoozing Dad and say, "I thought you'd like to see this." Or, simply let him sleep, and fill him in on what he missed later.

6. “Can You Hear Me Now?”

You don't have to shout. Face your parent or sit next to her "good" ear. Don't mumble. Speak clearly and repeat if necessary.

7. “You're Limping. You Need A Walker.”

Walkers and canes make older adults feel old. They also don’t like being told what to do. Explain that you’re worried they might fall, and that a cane or walker may help. Reference one of their neighbors who uses one and gets around great.

8. “You Always Complain About Your (Insert Pain Or Illness Here).”

Let them vent. For anyone, senior or otherwise, chronic pain is not fun. After they've complained about their aching hip (again), move the conversation to a positive topic.

9. “You're Too Old To Drive.”

If your parent shows cognitive or physical impairment that could impact her driving ability, approach the subject carefully. Express concern for her safety. Don't accuse.

10. “You Shouldn't Live Alone Anymore.”

A statement like this puts your parent on the defensive. Considering most older adults — nearly 90 percent according to an AARP study — want to stay in the family home as long as possible, it's not an easy conversation. Show empathy and concern and find a solution together.

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