What is the Best Way to Communicate with an Aging Parent About the Future?

Talking about the future with an aging parent can sometimes be an uncomfortable experience for those involved. Difficult topics to communicate may include: decisions about finances, the need for caregiving assistance, changes in health and wellness, and decreased mobility. Although these discussions can be difficult, opening up the lines of communication about the future is critical to the successful implementation of a care plan that best suits the needs of those involved. Below are some best practices to help you get through these important discussions with your loved one.

Best Practices for Communicating with an Aging Parent

Consider the following when initiating a difficult conversation with your aging parent:

  • Write down your objective and stick to it. This will keep you on track in the event the conversation changes if/when the subject becomes emotional.
  • Understand your communication style so that you are able to manage your emotions and clearly articulate what you mean.
  • Understand your aging parent’s communication style (i.e. how do they receive information) so you are prepared and can keep the conversation focused.
  • Consider the type of information being shared both from you and from your parent. Your parent may have great ideas or serious concerns and it is important to listen.
  • Choose the best environment/location to hold the conversation so you both feel comfortable and are not interrupted.
  • Remember personal style (such as use of body language, tone of voice, choice of words, speaking) because this can often cause conflict or misunderstanding.
  • Keep in mind your pace and word choice. This will ensure that the message is clear, articulate and on target.

When preparing for an important and/or difficult conversation, use the following guidelines provided by the International Council on Active Aging on specific phrases to use and which not to use.

Words and phrases
to avoid:
Words and phrases to
avoid or use sparingly:
Preferred words
and phrases:
  • Anti-aging
  • Aged
  • Grandmotherly
  • “he looks good for his age”
  • “despite her age….”
  • “even older adults can…”
  • “is active even at that age…”
  • Senior (may be appropriate for people 70 years or older in certain circumstances)
  • Senior (considered old-fashioned and stereotypical: is never appropriate for people at approximately 65 years and younger)
  • Golden agers
  • The elderly (may be used for a group, concern for the elderly)
  • Senior citizens
  • Adults ages 60 and older
  • People ages 55 and older
  • People with dementia
  • People in middle age
  • Aging adults
  • Midlife
  • Older adults
  • Older persons
  • Older people
  • Older patients
  • Older population
  • Prime time
  • Experience, experienced
  • Independent
  • Mentor, coach

Using these best practices will provide the framework for a healthy and meaningful conversation with your aging parent. This will allow you to plan for the types of changes you can anticipate, as well as begin preparing for the unknown.