Closing the Communication Gap
Aging Matters

Communication between generations is a challenge. Just as parents joke that their teens are "speaking a different language," there can be a communication gap when family members speak with the seniors in their lives. This disconnect can confuse, frustrate, and affect the daily lives of the elderly and those who care for them.

Living life at a different pace

Often a difference in the level of urgency first creates a conversational mismatch between generations. Children have agendas for our senior parents; when they don't share our priorities or their decisions take time, frustration results.

Adult children's lives are filled to the brim with responsibilities, commitments, activities and tasks. Seniors, however, are in a different stage; they are not managing as much, and life without a to-do list moves at a gentler pace. As a result, there is less urgency in elders' thinking overall.

Aware Senior Care has tips for managing these differences

  • Know that seniors won't go at your speed - Don't take it personally when your parent doesn't move at your pace; remind yourself it is not a conscious resistance, but a natural change for seniors.
  • Follow your parent's lead. Loop back to important decisions rather than forcing conversations in tense, inopportune moments. When adult children force our personal agendas, we end up alienating our parents
  • Recognize the shift in power - In healthy families, adult children act in the best interests of their senior parents. Even in those situations, though, our parents' control over their own lives has lessened; there's been a change of command. The goal is to make them feel they have a say in the matter.
  • Present two alternatives so they can make their own choice among acceptable options. Could they choose between pre-approved doctors or assisted living facilities within their budget? This important element is to provide a loving, diplomatic way to keep parents engaged.
  • Whether a senior has lost the ability to rationalize or their short-term memory has degraded, you face communication gaps. Recognizing the decline is the first step, and times to re-initiate important conversations.
  • Learn why your parents may be acting the way they are and use that information to shape future health-related discussions. You may need to bring your parent back to the subject at hand, explore the issue on their mind at the moment, or simply remind yourself that inside they are the same parent you know and love. Change your tactics as your parents' condition shifts and allow for even more time and patience than before.
  • Speak kindly - Issues of pace, cognition and control aside, speaking kindly to seniors is always the best bet. Understand that many are losing physical strength, mourning those in their peer group, or exploring their identity after retirement. Love them where they are and give grace for what they're experiencing.

In truth, we could all use communication in that spirit - whatever our age.

Guest article from Tim and Gina Murray, co-founders of Aware Senior Care.

Part of the Aging Matters Weekly Syndicated Column

Aging Matters is a weekly column tackling everyday challenges that our growing elderly population and their loved ones face. It is also published in a variety of syndication partners including newspapers all over the country.

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