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5 Things Not to Say to Your Elders

As we age, our abilities change and this sometimes means relying on assistance from others—family, friends, neighbors, even professionals like in-home caregivers, physical therapists, and others. As one person steps in to provide an extra hand, there can be a lot of communication back and forth when people are and aren’t at their best.

People who are living with dementia may be forgetful or say the same thing more than once, which can try the patience of the person helping out. Others receiving care might feel guilty or angry about their circumstances and lash out and it’s hard not to respond with your own less-than-kind sentiments.

Here are some suggestions to keep your words pleasant and productive when you are spending time with an elder in your life:

DON’T SAY: “Why haven’t you done that yet?”

DO SAY: “I bet if we do that together it will be more fun and then you won’t have to worry about it.”

Whether it’s paying a parking ticket, changing a light bulb or cleaning out the refrigerator, no one wants to be made to feel stupid or be reminded of their forgetfulness. Maybe there is a safety risk they don’t want to admit (for example, getting on a step ladder to change a lightbulb), or the pain of a condition like arthritis. If you aren’t available to provide hands-on help, find someone who can rather than nagging.

DON’T SAY: “Duh! Everyone knows that!”

DO SAY: “I forget that sometimes too.”

Regardless of age, we can all forget a name, a special occasion, or how to work new technology, so show them you’re human—and fallible--too.

DON’T SAY: “I’ve told you 1,000 times already.”

DO SAY: “Let’s create some reminders.”

Post-it notes are your friends. Make some friendly ones, and stick them where they can’t be missed to remind them of appointments or where they left something essential like medication or reading glasses. All kinds of technology can be used to set up alerts and jolt people into doing the necessary action when needed.

DON’T SAY: “You don’t need that anymore.”

DO SAY: “May I borrow this because it makes me think of you?”

Maybe you want to help de-clutter or you just don’t want your sister to get that heirloom, but there’s a polite way to go about securing keepsakes without making someone feel useless and near death.

DON’T SAY: “Why do you keep talking about that?”

DO SAY: “I like that story of yours and I can tell you do too.”

Reminiscing and storytelling are important for human connection, but it can be tiresome to hear the same stories over and over—especially if someone is throwing in some fiction that touches a nerve. Still, there’s nothing to be gained by correcting them. Listen, then tell your own story or find a new audience for them.

Words matter so choose yours carefully with those who are leaning on you.

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