Learn How To Help Without "Parenting" an Adult



Most older adults live independently for decades, before needing some help.


Asking for and accepting help can make older adults feel embarrassed, afraid or angry. Their family helpers may have similar emotions.


Getting and giving help can be easier if family members, including older adults:

  • Think and talk about themselves as a team

  • Recognize and respect older relatives' preferences for care, health, food, home and other matters

  • Listen to others' opinions but honor older family members' decisions

  • Let older relatives do what they can and want to do for themselves

  • Consider how to work with older family members' strengths

  • Use assistive devices, programs or other supports that build on older relatives' strengths

  • Ask if older family members want help before doing something to or for them

  • Don't only focus on what older relatives have trouble with or can't do

  • Look for alternatives like hiring help when family help with tasks, like bathing, is uncomfortable

  • Spend relaxing family time together


Speaking to and about older family members respectfully shows that they are valued adults who simply need some help.


Examples of respectful speech include:

  • Making suggestions: "It's a lovely day. Let's go for a walk!" instead of "You need to go for a walk. You've been in that chair all day!"

  • Asking for permission: "Is it okay if I brush your hair?" instead of "Your hair's a mess! I'm going to brush it."

  • Offering choices: "Would you like soup or a sandwich for lunch?" instead of "I'm making you a sandwich."

  • Explaining: "If you don't take your blood pressure pills every day, you can have serious problems," instead of "You better take your medication today."

  • Using "I" statements: "I feel nervous when you raise your voice," instead of "You make me upset when you yell."

  • Using their preferred name: "How are you feeling, Uncle Lou?" instead of "How are you feeling, honey?"


Some people slip into what's called "elderspeak" when talking to older adults. Elderspeak uses a sing-song tone, slow speech, simple words and short sentences when talking to older adults. It often makes assumptions and answers questions for older adults, as in: "You don't want that, now, do you, dear?"


Whether the speaker means to or not, using elderspeak treats older adults like children and is disrespectful. Using elderspeak can make older adults feel frustrated, angry, depressed or helpless.