As we get older, we face differing challenges about our health and abilities and it can often be difficult for family members to know how best to respond to these changes. Sadly, relatives of older people, and indeed society generally, have a tendency to treat them like they are stupid and incapable, by taking over and ‘helping’ in a way that actually doesn’t really help. We seem to have a belief that as we get older it automatically means we are less able both physically and mentally, and whilst there may be some decline in these areas it does not mean stupidity or incapability. We need to learn how to better communicate with our ageing parents.
Whilst it is acknowledged that this ‘helping’ is often done unconsciously and with seemingly good intention, the longer term outcomes of this approach are without doubt, detrimental to both ageing parents and the children who support them.
People who are restricted from doing what they are capable of doing will, over time, lose the ability and confidence to do these things and will become reliant on the person that has taken over. Of course for the person that takes over (usually the children of ageing parents), this means that they are now becoming relied upon to do certain things and as the person they ‘help’ becomes less confident and capable this burden of responsibility becomes greater and greater.
“Tell a person they are brave and you help them become so.”
What few people realise is that our unconscious style of communication is a major factor in creating issues for older people. So we need to learn to better communicate with our ageing parents. The good news is that some simple changes can make a profound difference to enable better outcomes and less stress for the family members involved.
At the heart of this change is the way we communicate and my Better Questions philosophy teaches people to do more ‘asking’ instead of ‘fixing’ and ‘telling’ as well as taking time to really listen, and not make assumptions.
When you ask questions you not only understand more about the situation and what is required from you, you also can enable the other person to generate their own ideas and actions and in the process of doing this, allow them to be responsible.
This aims to ensure that older people are supported to gain the greatest level of independence they can, and be as actively involved in making decisions about their life as possible. It embraces strengths and capabilities and in doing so enables older people to feel more motivated, engaged and live happier and healthier lives.
The Better Questions philosophy shifts the thinking of people that believe they are ‘helping’ from ‘doing for’ to ‘doing with’ and there is an underpinning recognition that the way we communicate is a really important aspect of being able to achieve this.
By becoming aware of how our unconscious ‘telling and fixing’ style of communication adversely impacts others, I invite people to see how a change in mindset will drive different behaviours and ultimately enable different and better results. If we recognise that we need to be much more respectful of the other person in terms of really understanding their needs and limitations, as well their capabilities, and learn how to better communicate with our ageing parents, we are likely to take a more considered approach to our response and undoubtedly get better outcomes for all.
While well-intentioned, some of us can be ageist in the way we treat older people. EveryAGE Counts is an advocacy campaign aimed at tackling ageism against older Australians and it has created a two-minute quiz that helps us work out how ageist we are. Take the “Am I ageist?” quiz here – https://www.everyagecounts.org.au/take_the_quiz
I’m old not stupid!, the ‘must read’ book for anyone who interacts with older people – https://www.empoweredconversations.com.au/product/im-old-not-stupid/
Caring differently, the easy guide to ‘less stress’ caring – https://www.betterquestions.com.au/products/caring-differently/131/1