Posts Tagged ‘boundaries’

8 Things Not to Say to Your Aging Parents

Posted on: March 16th, 2017 by Jamie

8 Things Not to Say to Your Aging Parents
Unintended barbs cut to the quick and can’t be taken back. Here are some better options.

By Linda Bernstein  Published March 6, 2016 at Next Avenue

I’m going to say something politically incorrect here: Sometimes our elderly parents make us a little nuts. (And sometimes they out-and-out drive us crazy.) We love you, Mom and Dad, but we’ve heard the story about Aunt Cissy pouring wine into the dog’s bowl so many times we can tell it ourselves – in our sleep.

The repetitions, the forgetfulness, the incessant asking whether we’d like a sandwich: Eventually it just happens, and out of our well-meaning mouths tumble snarky comments and insults that we really don’t mean but they…just… slip … out.


“Seniors often know that their memory and cognitive and physical abilities are declining, and reminders are only hurtful,” says Francine Lederer, a psychotherapist in Los Angeles who works with “sandwich generation” patients and their parents. But even when we manage to hold our tongue, frustration lingers. That’s when we have to be doubly mindful, because by repressing those emotions, we’re more likely to have an emotional outburst.

“You might be justifiably annoyed,” Lederer says, “but take a step back and consider how your parent must feel as she faces her diminished capacities.” When people first start “slipping,” they are aware of the loss, and they are often terrified, scared and saddened.

Since forewarned is forearmed, read through these eight common things we often catch ourselves saying plus suggestions for less hurtful ways to say them.



1. “How can you not remember that!?”
That lengthy discussion you had last week with your dad about getting the car inspected might as well never have happened. Older people often lose short-term memory before long-term and forget all kinds of things we think are monumentally important, like where they put their glasses or the keys – or when to take the car into the shop.

Say instead: “See this sticker? If the car isn’t inspected before the end of the month, a cop will give you a very expensive reminder.” Place a few Post-it notes around – on the dashboard, fridge, and bathroom mirror. Add a smiley face to keep the tone light. And if you still think your parent might forget, make the appointment then call your mom that morning to remind her.

2. “You could do that if you really tried.”
How hard is it to change the lightbulb in the table lamp? Well, if your hands shake a lot or you can’t reach the shelf where you keep the spare bulbs – or you’ve grown wary of electrical outlets – very hard. Simple tasks, like tying shoes, can become next to impossible if you have arthritis in your fingers or your back doesn’t bend easily. And being shamed into trying something doesn’t help.

Always Be Kinder Than You Feel
Say instead: “Let me watch and see where you’re having trouble so we can figure out how this can get done.” Or if you live out of town: “Ask (so-and-so) for help.” Older Americans, like everyone else, want to maintain their independence. But if a project is truly beyond their capabilities and they either don’t know anyone who could help (Or won’t ask), you might want to try find someone who can lend a hand.

3. “I just showed you how to use the DVR yesterday.”
Learning new technology is tough for any adult, but gadgets with lots of buttons and options pose a special challenge for someone whose cognition or eyesight is failing. Even those of us with nimble fingers and well-functioning frontal lobes can be stymied by a new device that labels the controls differently from the one we are used to.

Say instead: “The blue button on top turns the TV on, and there’s one set of arrows for changing the channel and another for the volume. I’ll show you again.” Better yet – ask your parents’ cable or satellite provider to recommend an older American-friendly remote control with a simple design. Some companies give these to older people for a nominal charge. If not, purchase one at a local electronics store. Or if they’re okay following instructions, you could write or print out step-by-step directions in large, legible type and leave it near the remote or listings guide.

4. “What does that have to do with what we’re talking about?”
One minute you and your dad are discussing summer vegetables and the next he’s talking about a problem with the sprinkler system. What happened? Conversations with elderly parents often “go rogue” – either because they can’t keep their mind on the thread or they are simply bored and want to change the subject.

Say instead: “I was telling you about my garden. You love my fresh lettuce!” If the subject is important to you, try to bring the conversation back on track without pointing a finger at their slipping powers of conversation. And try to avoid suppressing genuine anger or sadness, gently explain why the conversation was important to you. Another option: Say nothing and just listen.

5. “You already told me that.”
And don’t you ever repeat yourself? We all say things more than once – but because elderly parents seem to do it all the time, we lose our patience with them.

Say instead: “No kidding?! And don’t tell me that the next thing you did was …” Yes, you can make a joke of it -but only if your parent won’t feel hurt. Best-case scenario: Your mom or dad will feel amused and relaxed enough to join in.

6. “I want your silver tea service when you die.”
This is wrong on so many levels. Even worse than casually referencing their death is the fact that you come off like a circling vulture.

Say instead: “I have been reading how it’s helpful for everyone if parents leave a list specifying what will be left to whom.” Stress that unless they make their wishes known, there may be conflict among siblings and other relatives. I know one woman who gave her children and grandchildren stickers which they could use to mark items they desired (by placing them in the back or on the bottom).

7. “Wake up! (Or shhhh!) I thought you wanted to see this.”
The darkened halls of concerts, movies, plays and religious services (or even the TV room at home) cue our parents that it’s time for a quick snooze – which might be OK if there aren’t people around you trying to hear the show. There’s no need to remind older people that they’re committing a faux pas. And if their hearing is diminished, they may not realize that everyone can hear them “whisper.”

Say instead: “Mom, I know you don’t want to miss this.” Most likely she’ll fall asleep again. Then it’s up to you how many times you want to bother with the nudges – and not take it personally that your parent fell asleep on you.

8. “Hel-lo?! Your grandson’s name is Ryan.”
How many times have you called your husband by the dog’s name? Mixing up appellations can be a sign of cognitive impairment – or just a normal problem with word recall. The more it happens, though, the more likely it is that your parent is moving into a stage where he needs medical intervention.

Say instead: “It’s Ryan, Dad. Your first grandson’s name is Ryan.” There aren’t a lot of different ways to say this: The difference here is how you say it. Don’t sound critical or angry; say it gently and with a friendly smile. If your father is truly confused, he’ll probably be relieved that you’re not offended. If it’s just a slip of the tongue, he’ll be glad you’re not annoyed. If he really truly can’t remember your children’s names, you have larger issues to deal with.

The most important thing, Lederer stresses, is that as our parents age, we go out of our way to maintain good relationships. “When dealing with elderly people, let your motto be, “Reframe, don’t blame,” she says. A slip of the tongue can unleash a world of hurt and ill will. As exasperating as elderly parents can be, spouting off without thinking will only make them – and you – feel bad.

We shared this on our Facebook page earlier in the week and felt it was a great addition to our blog as well! You can view the original slideshow here.

The Importance of Personal Boundaries

Posted on: March 31st, 2014 by Armistead Admin
by Care Conscious


As surely as good fences make for good neighbors, personal boundaries make for better relations between caregivers and care recipients.

But how do you justify saying no to a loved one who simply wants to talk? Or only needs one more errand run? And what about a sibling who needs you to cover for them just this once? Or twice? Or fifth time?

As a caregiver, it’s important for you to set personal boundaries that will allow you to maintain both a sense of control and contentment with your own life.

Setting Boundaries

At first blush, setting boundaries sounds easy. You say, “I’ll do this but I won’t do that” and that’s that, right? Wrong.
Setting boundaries, setting real boundaries, requires a systematic assessment of the following:

  • Needs
  • Motivations
  • Resources
  • Realism
  • Commitment

Assessing Needs

Understand what your loved one truly needs versus what would be nice is an important first step in setting boundaries.

Spend time writing down what your loved one’s most essential needs are and evaluating the frequency with which it must be met or provided. For example, if your loved one can no longer operate a stove, having a meal prepared or dropped off every day is essential. However, visits to the pharmacy, while a nice excursion, probably only need to be done on a weekly basis.

Making a chart with columns for daily, weekly, and monthly tasks may help you assess the level of true need.

Examining Motivations

“To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
How you perceive your role as caregiver influences not only how much joy you receive from the role but also how you perceive the quality of your life.

In our society we’re taught that being generous with your time and resources is virtuous. As a result, people have a tendency to overextend themselves because they think it’s the right thing to do and because of how it makes them appear. But the truth is, taking on responsibilities for the wrong reasons—in an effort to earn respect, praise, or even love—may earn you little more than a sense of resentment, fatigue, anger, and a sense of helplessness. The long-standing dynamic of your relationship with your loved one will not suddenly change because of your efforts. In fact, in some ways it may become even more challenging.

Being a caregiver (to whatever degree you take on the role) should be a conscious decision and the prime motivating factor should be love; not appearances, not reparations, and certainly not guilt.

Identify and Enlist Support
Fact #1: You can’t do this alone.
Fact #2: You really, really can’t do this alone.

Many, many, many caregivers fall into the trap of trying to do it all. But instead of winning some great door prize at the end of the day most are left feeling utterly depleted, exhausted, and under appreciated. Some prize. Which leads us to Fact #3.
Fact #3: It’s important for you to enlist help early and often.

What starts out as just a weekly stop by to check-in on your loved one can quickly evolve into daily responsibilities that include not just pleasant conversation but finances, healthcare choices, home repairs, insurance claims, etc.

To keep all of this from falling on your shoulders alone, you must cultivate a support network early and keep all participants informed and involved.

Family, especially siblings, should be the first go-to resource. Be prepared that they may have different ideas about how to care for your loved one. But don’t worry about how things get done; just make sure they get done. By allocating simple tasks early, you spread the burden out as well as create a “we’re in this together” approach.

Beyond family, look to friends and neighbors who can also participate. Draw in as many helpers as possible and expose your loved one to them early. A large network will prevent your loved one from perceiving you as the sole caregiver. By involving them early, it’s less likely your loved one will perceive the increased involvement of others later as a failure on your part to live up to your responsibilities.

Beyond family and friends, avail yourself of community resources. Most communities have senior centers and faith-based organizations that offer the most necessary services including meal deliveries, transportation, and good old fashion company.


Realism is a bit like cough medicine. We all need a dose of it now and then but rarely do we like the taste.

Nonetheless, a dose of realism is essential to your success as a caregiver. Assuming you’ve honestly assessed your loved one’s needs, you’ve already taken an important first step towards it.

The next step is to match those needs with the abilities and availabilities of your network.
Begin by looking at the chart you created for assessing needs. With an honest heart, determine which things only you can do. Again, those are things ONLY you can do, not things you can do.

Assign yourself to those items then assign all other caregivers in your network to at least one task. Your name should not grace the list again until all other caregivers have been assigned a responsibility.

Naturally you’ll need to make sure all the members of your network are available to assist with the tasks assigned. If there’s a scheduling conflict make some switches but avoid removing someone from the list entirely and definitely don’t take on all the things that are inconvenient for others. They’re most likely inconvenient for you, too.

Once you have a plan, share it with your loved one. Be clear about when and how you’ll be assisting as well as when you won’t be available. Use the written plan to guide your conversation and show your loved one that others are available during your “down time.” This will prevent them from feeling abandoned and should lessen any potential guilt you might feel.


You probably think this next section is about being committed to caring for your loved one. But it’s not. This about being committed to caring for you.

About being willing to recognize that your time, your energy, your health, and your relationships are as deserving of a commitment of caring as your loved one is.

And while that sounds kind of soft and fluffy, it actually requires, at times, playing hardball.

Saying No to Saying Yes

Don’t let others guilt you into taking on more responsibilities or, especially, their responsibilities. If circumstances truly require you take something on for them, be sure to give them something of yours to handle in return.

Stay painfully aware your limits. You only have so many hours in a day and nobody else is going to step in to handle all of your life tasks simply because you’re doing someone else’s. Know your limits and say no when you must.

And know that when you say no, you do not have a responsibility to explain yourself. Don’t allow yourself to be dragged into conversations intended to guilt you into taking on more. Don’t engage in discussions that drag up who did what and when in the past. The past simply doesn’t matter at this moment. What’s matters is that your loved one gets the care they need and that your entire network carries the responsibility together.

Avoid Comparisons

You’ll no doubt know other families who are dealing with similar caregiving issues. Resist the temptation to evaluate the care you are providing based on what others are providing (and don’t let others try to do this for you). Every caregiving situation is different. From the person being cared for, their level of need, and willingness to accept help to the network of caregivers, financial resources, and the commitment of family, there’s no simply no meaningful comparisons to be drawn.

Yes, you may learn about new resources and new approaches from others, but resist the comparison trap. The path you’re on with your loved one and network of support is completely your own. Your focus should be on it making sure it leads to a desirable place.

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