Mum and Dad are older now, you’re worried about their health. They don’t eat well or exercise. They were raised in a time when there wasn’t plentiful information about healthy eating and staying active, and while there is a lot of good information available today about helping your elderly loved one, Mum and Dad seem to be ignoring it.
You’ve tried to talk to them about changing their diet and exercising, but it always seems to end up in an argument. How do you help them make a few lifestyle changes?
If the above scenario sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Many people with ageing parents see that their loved ones aren’t taking care of themselves, but have trouble motivating them to do so. It’s a delicate scenario in which even encouraging words can feel condescending. But you want your parents to be healthy and around for many years to come. Here are our top tips to encourage your loved ones to change their unhealthy ways.
Lead by example
Actions nearly always speak louder than words, especially when those words can come across as judgmental. So rather than nagging your parents to change, start by examining your own life. Do you eat healthfully? Is moderate exercise a consistent part of your life? If not, work on changing your own health behaviours, and let your parents know you’re doing it. Invite them to your morning walk if they live nearby, or have them over for a dinner of healthy grilled fish and vegetables. If they live in residential care, try and go for a walk with them around the grounds asking them to share the latest news of the place or point out any changes. Let your behaviour help them to contemplate a change in their own behaviour.
Start a conversation
Sound like you’re lecturing, and Mum and Dad will shut your words out, just like we did to them when we were younger. Instead, bring up the subject in a non-confrontational way. Try bringing up an interesting news article about a recent health study and ask their thoughts about it. Don’t focus on their behaviours until you sense an openness to new information. Your parents need to see the importance of their diet and lack of exercise before they will entertain the idea of changing their behaviour.
Make family time healthy time
Many family get-togethers center around food, like birthdays, Christmas, or even Sunday lunches. Shake things up by gathering somewhere else than around the table. Ask your parents to take the grandkids to the zoo if they are able, or get together at a park for an afternoon of lawn games. If they are in a residential facility and it’s possible to take them out for a couple of hours, go on an excursion. They might be open to walking further if there’s an interesting destination.
Change doesn’t happen easily. What’s more, focusing for big behaviour changes at the beginning will likely result in poorer outcomes and generate resistance. So help your parents to set small goals they feel they can be successful at. What about taking a ten-minute walk with you three times a week if you live close by. If you live far away, encourage them to catch up with local friends for a walk. Be their cheerleader and coach in the beginning. The next week, bump the walk up a few minutes, take the walk in new location.
Some useful links:
Carer’s Circle article on How using a key safe can help keep our parents safe –
Carer’s Circle article on Top 5 tips to reduce the risk of falls in the home –
Megan van Genderen’s three ways to help your cared one finish their meal article on Carers’ Circle – https://carerscircle.com.au/2021/09/13/3-ways-to-help-your-cared-one-finish-their-meal-and-why-this-is-so-important/
Carer’s Circle article on Connecting online can help prevent social isolation in older people –
A version of this article Helping your elderly loved one originally appeared on Aged Care Connect blog – Reproduced with permission.
Photo credit: Seniors wearing superhero costumes on Rawpixel