As family members age, adult children and their parents take on new roles that require care and empathy to navigate. Something most adults crave at any age is autonomy. But a 2017 study by HelpAge International found senior adults around the globe are denied independence and autonomy as they age, when others think they’re incapable of making their own decisions.
Aging parents need help, so caregivers should provide that care for while enabling them to live fulfilling lives. Dealing with aging parents can be difficult, so here are five things aging parents need from their adult children and caregivers.
1. Clear Communication
Transparent communication is essential for healthy relationships between adult children and their parents. David Solie, a health care consultant and aging expert, told The Washington Post that aging parents want adult children to:
- Listen to them
- Take their concerns seriously
- Be their advocate
Solie advises adult children of aging parents to ask how they prefer to solve problems. Then, use those preferred techniques to communicate and problem-solve.
Adult children should avoid telling their parents what to do. Instead, offer up choices and facilitate decision-making to come up with solutions based on the values of the parent or parents.
Caregivers shouldn’t assume they know what’s best for their aging parents. A constant, clear and open dialogue empowers aging parents to continue to make decisions they’re confident in.
As we age, it’s more common to experience physical and mental challenges that affect quality of life. Aging adults crave dignity and respect as their circumstances change. A 2020 study published in the journal Nursing Ethics found that older adults want to be valued, visible, acknowledged and recognized.
It’s important to keep those desires in mind when interacting with aging parents. A study published in the Annals of Family Medicine found that treating aging adults with dignity can positively impact their health and well-being. When interacting with aging parents, caregivers should:
- Use common courtesy when communicating
- Be open-minded and show appreciation for aging parents’ viewpoints
- Exhibit patience when helping aging parents
Interpersonal skills like compassion are important for any relationship, including one between adult children and aging parents. It helps to put yourself in your parent’s shoes and think about how you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed.
3. Helpful Assistance
Because independence is so important to seniors, adult children can provide help but should make sure it’s an offer, not forced upon. A 2018 study in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society found that some aging adults are reluctant to accept home-based support because it threatens their independence, or because they don’t want to be a burden. Fostering a system of “interdependence” can help alleviate those concerns.
When you want to offer help to aging parents, researchers suggest letting senior parents know how good it makes you feel to help. That may make aging parents feel better about accepting help, because they know they’re in turn helping you feel fulfilled in the process.
It’s also important to point out how aging parents continue to contribute to the lives of others. Maybe you help them with their yard work, and they provide you with great advice for your career. Tell your parents how they help you so they feel like your relationship is reciprocal, rather than they’re just accepting your assistance without giving back in return.
4. A Sense of Control
A sense of control, like independence and autonomy, is very important to aging adults. A December 2020 study published in Innovation in Aging found that control beliefs directly impact physical and cognitive health. Another study, published in 2019 in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, found that when seniors feel a lack of control, their self-care habits may suffer.
One issue that can impact an adult’s perception of control in their lives is their awareness of aging and age-related change. Adult children who insensitively point out problems due to aging can put senior parents on the defensive and make them feel like they’re losing control. Focus on the things you appreciate about your parents that have come with age, like the wise advice they pass on or how your upbringing with them has influenced you today.
Help parents retain a sense of control wherever they can by involving them in decision-making. Ask for their input in whatever decisions affect them. Communicate clearly and respectfully so they always feel like you have their best interests in mind.
An optimistic mindset, one that focuses on the good things in life rather than any negative aspects of aging, can boost health and well-being. A 2019 study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that positive thinking can increase lifespan by up to 15%.
In interactions with aging parents, it’s important to be positive. Helping aging parents maintain self-esteem and strong mental health can have a beneficial effect on their overall well-being.
Adult children should encourage aging parents to continue to participate in activities that bring them joy. For example, if your parent loves to exercise, a SilverSneakers fitness class is designed to be safe for seniors. Caregivers can connect parents with opportunities to have fun and meet other people.
You might also suggest that senior parents start a gratitude journal, or work on one together as an activity. NPR reports that showing gratitude can improve sleep, lower stress, help relationships, lower heart disease risk, decrease depression symptoms and lead to healthier nutritional habits. A 2019 study in Research on Aging found that daily gratitude exercises can also decrease feelings of loneliness and improve health for older adults.
Help Senior Parents Age Gracefully
Getting older can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding. Adult children and caregivers should be aware of aging parents’ desire for autonomy and control. Clear and respectful communication helps ensure seniors can participate in decisions about their lives. Be positive and encourage participation in activities that spark joy to help the seniors in your life lead meaningful lives.
Visit the Senior Lifestyle blog for more senior lifestyle tips and insights for caring for aging parents.