Anyone who has ever cared for or spent time with the elderly knows the frustrations that can arise. Simple things that most of us take for granted can turn into monumental tasks that must be repeated over and over again. What are the best ways to handle these situations?
Kurt Kazanowski is an expert in hospice, homecare and working with the elderly. He’s also the author of, A Son’s Journey: Taking Care of Mom and Dad. He says that while it can be frustrating, especially when it’s someone very close to you like your own parents, there are things you should and should not say that can make it a bit easier. For example:
1. Don’t say: “How can you not remember that!?”
Say instead: “See this sticker? Dad, if the car isn’t inspected before the end of the month, we could have problems.” Place a few post-it notes on the dashboard, fridge and bathroom mirror. Add a smiley face to keep the tone light. And if you still think your parents might forget, make the appointment and then call your dad that morning to remind him.
2. Don’t say: “You could do that if you really tried.”
Say instead: “Let me watch and see where you’re having trouble so we can figure out how this can get done together.” Or if you live out of town: “Ask (So-and-so) for help.” Seniors, like everyone else, want to maintain their independence. But if a project is truly beyond their capabilities and they either don’t know anyone who could help (or won’t ask), you might want to try to find someone who can lend a hand.
3. Don’t say: “I just showed you how to use the remote control yesterday.”
Instead say: “The blue button on top turns the TV on and there’s one set of arrows for changing the channel and another for the volume. I’ll show you again.” Better yet — ask your parents’ cable or satellite provider to recommend a senior-friendly remote control with a simple design, or purchase one at a local electronics store. Or, if they’re okay following instructions, you could write or print out step-by-step directions in large, legible type and leave it near the remote.
4. Don’t say: “What does that have to do with what we’re talking about?”
Say instead: “I was telling you about the game last night. It’s okay if you want to chat about something else.” If the subject is important to you, try to bring the conversation back on track without pointing a finger at your parent. And to avoid suppressing genuine anger or sadness, gently explain why the conversation was important to you. Another option: Say nothing and just listen.
5. Don’t say: “You already told me that.”
Say instead: “No kidding? And don’t tell me that the next thing you did was . . . .” Yes, you can make a joke out of it — but only if your parents won’t feel hurt. Best-case scenario: Your mom or dad will feel amused and relaxed enough to join in.