I was in a physicians office the other day and I noticed a mother and daughter interacting. The receptionist of course had some questions and additional forms for completion in preparation for their appointment. The daughter was rushed, impatient, and kept drilling her mother with questions, speaking quickly, and asking multiple things in almost one breath. As the daughter continued on, you could see the growing look of embarrassment and frustration come over her elderly mother's face. However, to no avail, the daughter kept pushing on asking multiple questions at one time, becoming impatient at moments, and not listening or respecting her mother or giving her time to process and answer each item. Seeing clear frustration on her mother's face, upset me greatly so I kindly and gently offered to help. "Perhaps you could slow down and ask one question at a time so that your mother can be given time to answer?" The daughter looked at me with a perplexed expression and simply dismissed what I had to say. However, the older woman had a look of relief and gratitude on her face that someone finally understood how she was feeling at that moment in time, our eyes met and she simply said, "thank you, thank you for your help." She seemed to relax and one by one began to answer the questions for the receptionist who was also understanding and compassionate. My comment was enough to help her to regroup a bit and finally begin to slowly move forward in positive way.
I see this type of situation on many occasions when I’m out and about. As people grow older family members need to be patient, understand normal aspects of aging, adjust their communication style, and also show respect in terms of their interactions with seniors.
Please note the following guidelines below that may help in having respectful, successful, and meaningful communication and interactions with loved ones as they grow older:
1. When possible promote independence and allow them to feel a sense of control over their life and choices. Allow your family member to do as much as they can for themselves always noting and reinforcing kindly safety along the way. Do not leave them feeling helpless or useless, promote independence and focus on what they can do and what they do well! No matter what the situation is everyone wants to have purpose! This can be achieved always with creativity, patience, and planning!
2. Try your best to value their decisions and ask for their input along the way. Again provide support and guidance to promote safe choices. All seniors should have a trusted elder care attorney in place and have their wishes noted clearly on their legal documents- advanced directive and power of attorney. When choosing individuals to serve as decision makers or rather as someone to ensure that their wishes are carried out, they should choose someone they trust. Never choose a person to keep peace in the family or to make a family member happy. Ensure that the person chosen is someone who will respect documented wishes and follow them!
3. Let seniors take the lead where they can!!! Do not answer for them initially, especially at appointments; let them try to answer first if able to due so. Do not say do you remember, as they may not! Forgetfulness is a normal change of aging and does not always mean that they have dementia. In a respectful manner guide them gently in understanding questions if having difficulty answering. Sometimes people need some additional time to process things as they grow older so taking things slow and giving ample time to process and answer is best. Never ask multiple questions at one time or rush an answer as this can lead to frustration. Be respectful in all interactions! Think of how you would like to be treated.
4. Although many seniors begin to need help with a variety of tasks, try not to focus only on this aspect of things in terms of your relationship. Try to ensure that you spend quality time with your loved one and enjoy time together. If tasks can be forwarded to another person to allow for this, then consider doing so. Allow your family member when possible and with support to participate in task completion as this will promote independence and give them normalcy and purpose. You never want your family member to feel guilt or dependence. Socialization and a sense of purpose are very important and something that needs to be supported.
5. Give your family member time to talk and express their feelings especially if having mobility, cognitive, or physical health changes. Take time to listen and give support throughout. Make sure that you understand their needs and wishes. Do not try to force your ideals or preferences on them!
Getting older can be difficult and support, patience, effective communication, and understanding along the way can make all the difference. Often times people feel that they are losing control over so many aspects of their life due to health changes, so giving back a sense of control and input into the areas that remain is important.
If you need guidance in understanding aspects of aging or other areas feel free to reach out for assistance!