10 Simple Rules of Communication With Elderly Parents

Alexander Galitsky is an artist and art therapist living in Israel. He says, “I teach elderly people wooden sculpture and draw pictures.” He also gives master classes. Bright Side is happy to share with you his 10 pieces of advice on how to communicate with elderly parents.

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What you shouldn’t do:

When we were children, the adults were driving us mad with stories about a boy in the neighborhood who had better marks at school and listened to his parents. As they grow older, we repay in kind: “Look, your neighbor walks every day, and you always sit at home.“ Don’t try to lecture them. You cannot change them at this age. We can only accept them as they are. If a person has been smoking to the age of 80, they probably won’t give up. As one of my elderly wards jokes, ”I’m doing my breathing exercises until the pack is empty.”

Guilt haunts everyone. Whatever happens, there’s always a feeling that you’ve failed — failed to finish something, to give, to behave properly with your parents. Don’t blame yourself. Time is guilty. We must take care of ourselves and learn to relax. If you live your life for an elderly person, you’ll end up being blamed for how your life turned out. Why didn’t you get married? Why don’t you have children?

The aggression of elderly people comes from dissatisfaction. When you take the cause of the aggression, when you’re smiling at your elderly relatives and don’t respond to their attacks, the aggression fades. If you answer to their aggression, you’re lost. You must be able to change the subject. Try to change the topic to a calm conversation with your parents. This exercise will help in cases of conflict.

I’ve been working with elderly people for 15 years. When they start to blow my mind, I try to stay calm, and then realize I have no reasons to bear grudges: they’re not just our parents, they are you and me in 20, 30, 40 years.

There are lots of moments when I really want to talk back. One of my wards made me buy her a heavy piece of wood, and we’ve been making a sculpture of it for two years. She was constantly complaining about me: look what a difficult task he gave me. I heard it all, and I didn’t answer. I couldn’t remind her it was she who asked for it — she simply didn’t remember. When you know who you’re dealing with, everything becomes much easier.

What you should do:

Compassion is crucially important. Yet you need to distinguish between compassion and pity — they’re heaven and earth. Pity disarms us: feeling sorry for a person, we are unable to help. But compassion can be different, even cynical or active.

They want us to be successful. If I come to my parents and start complaining, they already cannot help me. So I divided the two truths: there’s a good truth and the truth they should never know. Our well-being is the key to their success, and you should bear it in mind all the time.

We should know exactly who we’re dealing with. It’s necessary to understand what it means when a person cannot see, hear, or stand up. To understand a blind person, try putting yourself in their place: at least try drawing in the dark.

When we want to protect an elderly person from fraud, all the tips are associated with the strengthening of the defense: to get an iron door, camera, forbid them to approach the door. In fact, the answer is very simple: you need to keep them busy. You should know what a person likes and give them something to do. My aunt, for example, liked to reprint the poems of Shakespeare on an old computer. Another friend of mine, an 80-year-old lady, cannot hear anything, but she knows five swimming styles and likes spending time in a pool.