Communication is a learned skill. Most people don’t naturally grow into great communicators without first having practiced, whether through formal schooling, life experience, or a mixture of both. Communicating with aging parents can have the potential to be frustrating for both parties. Health issues, such as losing hearing or cognitive function, can play a huge role in making good communication difficult with loved ones, and as parents age there are some difficult topics that will need to be addressed. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when any issue needs to be discussed with an aging loved one.
1. Be patient. This is easier said than done. When one or both parties let frustration reign, there is really nothing of value that will come from the conversation. Try to be especially patient if your loved one struggles with hearing, processing, or speaking. Try writing questions down, speaking slower or a little bit louder, and waiting patiently while they form a response or question. This also requires you to make the time in your schedule to have a conversation. Rushing it or becoming annoyed will only serve to make the situation more difficult. Give your parents your undivided attention and limit distracting noises in the room (the TV, phones, etc).
2. Don’t assume. When we assume we know how our loved ones are feeling or what they are thinking, we greatly reduce our effectiveness as a communicator. The truth remains that we don’t know what someone really thinks or feels, and the only way to find out that information is to listen to them. Listening is also a learned skill. Remember not to listen with the intent to reply, but listen with the intent to understand the other person’s point of view. Make sure to give their feelings and thoughts a place, and don’t be quick to disregard them simply because you don’t understand them.
3. Be honest. There really is no point in having a conversation about difficult topics if both parties are not honest about their needs, wants, and abilities. Sometimes it can be helpful to have a third party present (doctor, caregiver, another family member), so that there can be some accountability and reason when emotions start to run high. If the truth is not spoken gently and in love, then it can really do some damage to the relationship. What is being spoken may be true, but it can also be hurtful or manipulative, and that defeats the whole purpose of having an open and honest conversation.
A good rule of thumb is to treat your aging loved ones the way you want to be treated. Speak to them in the way you would enjoy being spoken to. Show them the amount of grace and patience you would want shown to you if the situation were reversed. There are many issues that can be resolved properly when good communication skills are used.
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This information is not intended to take the place of a doctor’s advice. If you have questions or concerns regarding you or a loved one’s health, always consult your doctor.