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Tips for talking to elderly parents about changes to lifestyle

Having a conversation with elderly relatives about making some changes to help keep them safe can be challenging.

April 04, 2022

Daughter talking to elderly parent

If you have some concerns about the safety of an elderly parent who lives independently, finding the right way to bring up these worries in conversation can be challenging. Whether it’s them needing a bit of help at home, their driving or mobility, or perhaps some current lifestyle choices that might not be optimal for health, it can be really tough to know how to raise topics like this without offending them or otherwise hurting your parent’s feelings.

In this article, we offer some tips for how to broach these types of conversations in a sensitive and positive way, as well as some tips on how to help elderly parents more safely maintain their independence - in ways that help give everyone greater peace of mind.

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Talking about the elderly and driving

For many people in later life, being elderly and driving is a vital way for them to maintain independence and do the things they need and enjoy. As well as the practical elements, such as being able to visit shops, access healthcare and other services, driving also gives them the freedom to stay socially connected with other people, which is even more important in areas that don’t have good public transport provision.

According to the DVLA, there are over 5.7 million drivers over the age of 70 in the UK, and even though research shows that (statistically) older drivers (aged 70+) are significantly less likely to have a road traffic accident than young drivers (17-24 years) – all drivers over the age of 70 need to renew their driving license every three years by completing a self-assessment to indicate they are still safe to be on the roads and inform the DVLA if any medical conditions develop that affect their ability to drive safely.

However, it can sometimes be the case that someone isn’t always aware of things such as their reaction times slowing down over time, or their hazard perception perhaps becoming less sharp, which could potentially give their loved ones some concerns about their safety when behind the wheel.

Road sign

If you’re worried about safety when your parent is driving, bringing up your concerns in conversation can be difficult, but there are ways to approach the subject with tact and sensitivity. Tips include:

  • Talking positively about some of the statistics and facts around older drivers to get the conversation started initially.
  • Asking how they find driving these days and whether they have any concerns about road safety in general, not just in relation to their own driving.
  • Asking if they prefer driving in daylight hours or whether they like to stick to roads or areas they know well these days (they might not consciously realise they’ve started to do this until you mention it) to see if they are self-limiting their driving in some way, which could indicate lower confidence than they used to have in this area.
  • Finding out in advance about public transport options (if available) for some of the places that your elderly parent visits frequently; so, if they are willing to try this method, even if just as a one-off initially, they have all the information they need to hand. You can offer to go with them if this will help.

If your parent seems offended or defensive about the subject, you might want to change the subject and come back to it at another time. Nothing has to be decided today. This is just a conversation to introduce the subject to your parent and you can revisit it in the future if they are not ready to discuss it with you now.

 

Talking about a healthy lifestyle for elderly parents

As we get older, the liklihood of developing some medical issues naturally becomes greater, and this can be further amplified if someone lives a particularly sedentary lifestyle or has a very unbalanced or unhealthy diet. Maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle can have a big impact on both physical and mental health for now and the future.

Talking to elderly relatives about about getting older and making some positive lifestyle changes can be difficult, especially if they seem very set in their ways, but we’ve provided some tips to help you broach these kinds of subjects with your loved one.

Daughter with elderly parent

  • It's important to make this a two-way conversation so that your parent feels involved and that their opinion is valued and understood, rather than you just telling them to change things, which is unlikely to go down well. They will need to want the changes and to see (and feel) the benefits of them in order for this to succeed long-term.
  • Approach the conversation in a positive manner, perhaps by inviting them to join you for a gentle walk on a nice day (if their mobility permits) or to go out together for lunch. Alternatively, you could take lunch round to their house to share together as you talk.
  • Talk about some positive differences you’ve seen with your own health or wellbeing after making a change like the one you’d like your parent to try. For example, after eating more healthily, going for a short walk each day or joining a club or group.
  • Get prepared by looking for any existing groups or projects in the local area that could help with both physical activity and social engagement. For example, if your elderly parent enjoys sport and is physically able to, would they consider joining a local walking football team, a bowling club or volunteer with a community project that would be suitable for them? You can always go with them on their first visit if they’re unsure.
  • Bring up something relevant that you’ve heard or read in the news about health and/or nutrition and ask them what they think of it.
  • Ask them if there is anything about their current lifestyle that they want to change and together you can discuss how you might be able to help or support them in doing so.

 

Talking to your elderly parent about safety at home

If your parent has had an accident at home recently, has experienced a fall or just seems more frail, less mobile or less capable than they used to be, it can be a real worry for family members. Many older people are understandably fiercely independent; they’ve been looking after themselves just fine for many years in their own environment, so why should that change? So talking to them about potentially making some changes at home to help ensure their safety as they get older could be a sensitive topic.

It might be that they would benefit from having a little assistance around the house rather than being at a stage where formal carer or care services are needed, or perhaps you just want to minimise the risks of them having a fall at home or are worried about them spending lots of time on their own.

Grab rail

You could try starting conversations of this type by:

  • Talking about someone you know who has started having help at home and how beneficial it has been for them. Ask your parent whether there are any areas that they would appreciate help with to make their life easier.
  • Talking about any adaptations that might help improve safety at home, such as grab rails.
  • Discussing potentially getting a personal alarm with them. This is an inobtrusive solution that can help them maintain the independence they are used to, but means that if something were to happen, such as a fall or any type of emergency, they (and you) know that help is just a button-press away.
  • Talking about how technology now enables things such as smart home monitors for the elderly that use artificial intelligence (AI) to learn someone’s routine and can raise an alert if things unexpectedly change, but without intrusive tracking that could make someone feel like they are being spied on.
  • Talking about fire safety and checking whether essential precautions, as well as maintenance, are being taken in the home, such as working smoke detectors and ensuring your parent knows what to do if a fire does break out.

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Helping your elderly parent adjust to lifestyle changes

Some people find changes to their daily lives really difficult to adjust to. If this sounds like your elderly parent, they might appreciate your support as they make decisions about their lifestyle as they get older. Some of the areas in which you might be able to help could include:

  • Going with them as they try new things for the first time e.g. taking a bus to somewhere they usually drive to.
  • Always letting the parent take the lead on lifestyle changes, so they retain that element of independence and control. The decision needs to be theirs to give the best chance of a successful transition.
  • Finding details for them online if they’re not very Internet savvy to help them make an informed decision e.g. what is the best personal alarm for their situation?

With your continued support and using the tips we’ve covered in this article, you’ll easily tackle these delicate subjects so that your elderly parent will get the support, lifestyle, and safe environment that they need.

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Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

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Ways to support independent living

Independent living products brochure

Learn how personal alarms and home monitoring solutions can keep you or your loved ones safe and independent at home.

Download brochure


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