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What To Do When Elderly Parents Won’t Listen

Frustrated daughter and stubborn elderly parents.

You know that your senior mother or father is the parent and you’re the adult child, but that doesn’t mean they always have to ignore what you say.

Sometimes talking to your stubborn parents is like having a conversation with a brick wall. You want to get through to your mom or dad, but how?

If your elderly parents show some signs of cognitive decline (memory loss, difficulty reasoning or solving even simple problems) then it’s time to be more cautious.

This is especially true for any parent with a history of mental health issues like depression and anxiety, as well as seniors who have just recently lost another family member.

24 Tips On What To Do If Your Elderly Parent Isn’t Listening

Dealing with a parent who’s, well, let’s say “opinionated” about your help can be frustrating.

But before you throw in the towel, check out these 20 tips:

Note: Some of these tips are targeted towards older adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease which can certainly contribute to their behavior.

You may want your mantra to be “It is what it is.” Said another way, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Suzanne Modigliani, a Boston-based geriatric care manager with a social work background, points out, “They are adults with the right to make decisions — even poor ones.” While you might wish you could control your aging parents for their own good, the reality is you cannot force them to do anything. The first of the tips for aging parents is that accepting this fact can help reduce your stress and even improve your relationship with your parents.

Speak Their Language:

  1. Chill the teacher voice: Ditch lectures and nagging. Talk calm and cool, like you’re explaining things to a friend.
  2. Listen up, then speak up: Hear their concerns and worries first. Then, explain your point clearly and patiently.
  3. Simplify it: Keep things short and sweet. Don’t overload them with info, it’s like trying to stuff a whole pizza in your mouth at once!
  4. Focus on “we”: It’s not about you vs. them. Frame things as a team effort, like “We both want you to be safe and healthy.

Be a Detective:

  1. What’s the real deal? Is their resistance about losing control, fear, or something else? Understanding their “why” helps you find a solution.
  2. Offer choices, not orders: Feeling like they have a say makes them more likely to cooperate. “Dinner: chicken or fish?” not “Eat your chicken!
  3. Make it fun, not a chore: Turn doctor visits into adventures, medication into treasure hunts (with safe prizes, of course!).

Think Outside the Box:

  1. Teamwork makes the dream work: Involve siblings, friends, or neighbors for support and fresh ideas.
  2. Doctor, doctor, help!: Talk to their doctor about their resistance and see if there are medical reasons behind it.
  3. Support groups: Sharing with others who get it can be a lifesaver! Find online or in-person groups for caregivers.

Remember, You’re a Superhero (Even When You Don’t Feel Like One):

  1. Take care of yourself: You can’t pour from an empty cup! Exercise, hobbies, relaxation – they’re not selfish, they’re essential.
  2. Educate Yourself: Learn about the aging process, common health issues, and how they affect behavior and mood.
  3. Celebrate the wins: Every small victory, every “yes,” is a big deal! Acknowledge your progress and give yourself a pat on the back.
  4. Be Flexible: Be willing to adapt your approach as their needs and abilities change.
  5. Humor is your superpower: A laugh can defuse tension and make tough situations lighter. (But avoid jokes at their expense!)
  6. Focus on the good: Remember all the amazing things about your parent. It’ll fill your cup with love and patience.

Sometimes, Tough Love is Needed:

  1. Set boundaries: You can’t help if you’re constantly burnt out. Say “no” when you need to and explain why kindly but firmly. Read more about setting boundaries.
  2. Safety first: If their choices endanger themselves or others, it’s okay to seek professional help or involve authorities.
  3. Remember, you’re not alone: This is hard! Don’t be afraid to ask for help from professionals or family.

Bonus Tips:

  1. Validate their feelings: Even if you disagree, acknowledge their emotions. “I see you’re frustrated, and I am too. Let’s work together.”
  2. Appeal to their interests: Find ways to connect their needs to things they enjoy. Like gardening? Maybe tending to a small herb garden can encourage healthy eating.
  3. Pick Your Battles: Not every issue needs to be a confrontation. Focus on what’s most important for their health and safety.
  4. Be patient, grasshopper: Change takes time. Celebrate small steps and remember, you’re doing an amazing job!
  5. Empathize: Try to understand things from their perspective. Acknowledge their feelings, even if you don’t agree.

Coping with elderly parents who behave badly can be emotionally taxing and challenging. So give yourself a break and understand that it’s not personal (most of the time).

Get help from a counselor, a support group or a therapist to help you through this time of your life.

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