Responding to Negative Reactions During Health Conversations


Everyone wants to have good care and be healthy. However, sometimes health discussions can bring up strong emotions.



Older adults might feel intimidated by health professionals, confused by medications or embarrassed to ask for help. Well-meaning questions about their health might sound like attacks on their judgment or abilities.


Listen carefully to what the older adult says Remember that what you're talking about probably affects the older adult's life every single day.


During difficult discussions, do your best to share your thoughts calmly and clearly, using phrases like, "I am concerned" or "My feelings are". Focus on what you can agree on and how you can work together to support the older adult's health.


You and the older adult might have different ways of speaking or thinking about health topics. Health discussions can be difficult when:

  • You disagree about whether there is a health problem, or what the problem is.

  • You disagree about what's most important. For example, you might want to plan for end-of-life decisions, while the older adult is focused on lowering blood pressure.

  • You disagree about what's a good solution.

  • You use or hear words differently, so that you say and mean X, but the older adult hears Y.

  • You have different communication or decision-making styles.

  • You want different people included in health discussions, or have different interpretations of what health professionals said.

  • How you respond to each other is shaped by family patterns or social roles.

If the older adult has a negative reaction, it can help to ask why. Try to understand the older adult's point of view.


If the older adult doesn't want to discuss it, don't push it. You might need to agree to disagree on some things.


It's usually better to drop the subject and discuss it again later. If you understand why the last conversation was difficult, you might be able to find a better way to approach the topic next time.