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How to Communicate With an Aging Parent Who Won’t Listen

Get tips for talking with aging parents who won’t listen

Talking with an older adult about sensitive subjects like aging and necessary lifestyle changes can be tricky. To make those conversations more successful, Paradise Living Centers shares 4 tips for talking with an aging parent and 3 tips for talking with someone who has Alzheimer’s or dementia. And even though they focus on aging parents, these tips can help you communicate with any older adult that you care for.

It can be frustrating and even frightening when you‘re trying to communicate something important to your aging parents and they won’t listen to or accept what you are saying. 

Adult children and their aging parents may struggle as age, illness, or physical challenges require a change in the parents’ living circumstances. 

Self-sufficient adults who raised families, ran businesses and households, now face being told they can no longer live the life they spent a lifetime building in the way they want. It’s a tough sell on a good day. 

But there are ways to communicate with an aging parent that will make it easier to address tough life topics and important decisions.


1. Your parents are adults, treat them that way

First and foremost, even though you may think your parents are acting as stubborn as young children, they are not children. 

They are adults and any conversation you have with them needs to come from a place of respect and consideration. 

Don’t talk at your parents. Talk to them.

2. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

Actually, sometimes it is what you are saying. 

“Mom, I don’t think you should be driving anymore” is probably not going to sit well in even the softest, sweetest tones. 

But tone does matter. 

Anyone who feels yelled at, harangued or bullied will often back away from the conversation and shut down communication. 

Take a careful look at how you’re communicating because that may be at the core of why your parents are not listening to you.

3. It’s not you, it’s me

One effective way to get an aging parent to listen is to make it about you. 

Explaining to your mom that you can’t sleep at night because you’re so worried about her getting into a car accident is different than saying, “You can’t see and you’re going to get yourself killed, or worse – kill someone else. No more driving.”

Many aging parents’ worst fear is of becoming a burden to their families. It fuels much of the resistance to getting help in their later years.

Honestly explaining how their unwillingness to listen to you is causing that dreaded burden can go far in bringing them back to the conversation.


4. Include your aging parent in decision-making

Rather than lay down the plan for your parents, whether it’s hiring someone to help them around the house and run errands, moving them to an assisted living facility or simply helping them declutter, bring them in on these decisions. 

Ask them what THEY want and try to accommodate them.

How to communicate with an aging parent who has dementia

1. Accept the situation

The number one tip for effectively communicating with a parent living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is to first accept the situation for what it is. 

You’re not talking to the mom or dad you grew up with. 

Dementia can alter personalities, perceptions and more. Talk to the person they are now.

2. Keep it simple

When talking to someone with dementia, keep your communication simple and the choices limited.

Long, sequential questions with a variety of potential answers will frustrate both of you.

Here’s an example of simple, direct questions: Do you want to wear your loafers or your sneakers? Do you want chicken tacos or beef tacos for lunch?

3. Timing is everything

Talk to your parent when they can actually focus on what you’re saying. Avoid asking questions when they are visibly tired or distracted.

When communicating with an aging parent, you’re bound to encounter some infuriating behavior at some point.

And let’s face it, some people with dementia get downright ornery. In fact, most of us get ornery, even if we don’t have the excuse of dementia.

When that happens, do your best to let it go.

Take a time out, ask siblings or other family members to step in, or seek professional advice, but don’t get sucked into a power struggle.

No one wins, especially when you issue ultimatums or criticize.

Focus on respect and acceptance

Aging is one of the few sure things most of us face in life. The common thread in all of these tips is respect and acceptance.

When those two things drive your communication with your aging parents, it will always be more effective.

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Guest contributor: Melissa Andrews is the Content Marketing Strategist for Paradise Living Centers, an assisted living center for seniors with locations in Paradise Valley and Phoenix, Arizona. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking and going on hiking trips with her siblings and cousins.

This article wasn’t sponsored and doesn’t contain affiliate links. For more information, see How We Make Money.


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