When you’re caring for aging parents, sometimes what you don’t do matters as much as what you do.
As we covered in 5 Ways Aging Parents Need Help from Their Adult Children, a sense of dignity is important to senior adults. Dignity is a person’s feeling of worth and value.
Dignity is a human right, as defined by the World Health Organization. It includes:
- Freedom from abuse
- Not being discriminated against
- Ability to contribute to communities and policies
As parents age, there may be emerging needs for their physical and mental health. Caregivers, including adult children, can support healthier aging by knowing how to help their aging parents by giving them what they need and avoiding what they don’t want.
Here are five things to try to avoid when you’re caring for aging parents or you’re dealing with negative elderly parents.
As adults approach their later stages in life, conflict can put a damper on aging. According to a 2019 survey reported on CNBC, the top five regrets of adults ages 90 to 99 all revolved around relationship failures. The top regret was not cultivating closer relationships with their children.
Conflict is sometimes inevitable. When you’re aware that changing relationships can increase conflict risk, you can work to avoid it. AARP recommends to:
- Talk with older parents about how they want to age
- Enable parents to make as many decisions as possible
- Focus on positivity
It may be helpful to adopt a mindset of treating your aging parent as you would a friend. As psychologist Joanna Pantazi points out, we often hurt the ones we love the most because we trust they’ll accept our actions – even when they’re negative.
But during the sometimes-stressful times as parents age, it’s more important than ever to be respectful and try to avoid conflict. That way, your parents can feel empowered and supported during their journey.
2. Unreasonable Expectations
Expecting too much from aging parents can lead to conflict. It can put a strain on your relationships and make you resentful and angry.
When you have unreasonable expectations of your senior parents, that can lead them to feeling like you’re disappointed in them. It can also stress them out when they feel like they have to meet your expectations.
You’re only in control of your own actions. Letting go of expectations can be better for both your parents and for you.
Wonder if your expectations of your parents are too high? Ask yourself if:
- You feel frustrated by their actions
- You’re stressed when things don’t go according to plan
- You let small details affect you
Be aware of how aging may impact your parents. If you expect your parent to do something or act a certain way but they fail to do so, determine whether that may be due to aging.
You can offer help if it’s relevant. For example, you may hire a housekeeper to clean their home, or bring up a discussion about moving to a senior community where they can get more assistance, if needed.
Download How to Support Aging Parents: A Guide for Adult Children
From emotional support and financial concerns, to legal considerations and housing options, there’s a lot to consider when you’re caring for aging parents. This free guide provides research, insights and resources for adults caring for parents.Download the Guide
3. Orders & Mandates
Your senior parents are adults who want autonomy. If you treat them like they’re a child, even if you’re their caregiver, that can lead to animosity and bitterness.
A sense of control is a key indicator of successful aging, according to a 2020 study published in The Journals of Gerontology. A higher sense of control is associated with:
- Greater life satisfaction
- More optimistic views about adulthood
- More positive and less negative affect
- Fewer depressive symptoms
Try to avoid telling an aging parent what to do or forcing solutions on them. When possible, make decision-making a collaborative process. Unless your parent’s safety is in jeopardy, respect them as an autonomous adult.
While it’s important to recognize that your aging parents may need assistance, you also shouldn’t make assumptions about them.
A lack of trust or confidence can cause any relationship to suffer. That includes the relationships you have with your parents.
If you’re questioning what your parent is telling you, have a discussion about it. Respectful and open communication can help you deepen your understanding of what’s really going on with your parent.
Aging parents want to feel like you trust what they’re saying is the truth. They also want to trust that you have their best interests at heart and that you won’t take advantage of them or put them in a bad situation.
Open communication is a meaningful way to show your parents you trust them and they can trust you. It’s important to involve them in decision-making and be supportive (but not pushy) when you’re helping them solve problems and find solutions.
Ageism is a real threat to health. A 2020 study published by the National Poll on Healthy Aging found two in three older adults (65%) reported daily exposure to ageist messages. Older adults who reported experiencing at least three forms of everyday ageism in their daily lives had worse mental and physical health compared to those who experienced less.
To combat ageism, adult children and caregivers should be inclusive, respectful and empowering. Adult caregivers should avoid criticizing an older adult for their inability to do something or their decline in a particular area.
Caregivers should also not assume inability or be condescending when interacting with older adults. Observe and question before making a judgment about an older adult.
What to Consider When Help Is Needed
For adults who want to preserve positive relationships with their aging parents but who are having difficulty being caregivers, it might be time to start a conversation. There’s a variety of senior lifestyle options available with safety, health and security in mind.
Professional caretakers in a senior living community can help alleviate caregiver burdens adult children face. Learn about senior communities near you.