Talking About Your Healthy Limits


Talking about your healthy limits is an important part of self-care. It also encourages others to set their own healthy limits.


These discussions will help you and others work together to support the older adult, without burning anyone out. That means stronger and more reliable help, and often more options, for the older adult.


Before starting the conversation, ask yourself:

  • What can I do to help the older adult? What can’t I do?

  • What time and skills do I have to offer?

  • Does that leave enough time for my work, family, home and self-care?

  • What feedback and support do I want from others?

Set a small goal for your first conversation. For example, you could talk about what healthy limits are and how they help everyone. Or you could talk about how your help for the older adult fits in with your other obligations.


Good conversation starters include facts and personal experiences. For example:

  • “I can plan better if I know how I’m helping and when. Do you feel clear about how you and others are supporting the older adult?”

  • “Did you know that people who are clear about what they can and can’t do are less stressed and able to help out for longer?”

  • “I know that Cyndy’s sister tried to do everything for their mom, and she wound up totally stressed and overwhelmed.”

To make your healthy limits clear, talk about:

  • How and when you can help: “I can’t drive you to every medical appointment, but I can sign up for one or two a month.”

  • What information and support you need: “I can help you with your taxes, if you can give me last year’s return and get this year’s forms together.”

  • How you can work with others: “I can pick up prescriptions on the days when I’m working downtown. George, can you pick them up on other days?”

  • Other options: “I can’t clean your apartment, but I know Ethel pays a friend’s daughter to help with cleaning. Do you want me to give her a call?”


If you need to change how you’re helping to stay within your healthy limits:

  • Explain what needs to change and why: “I can’t keep bringing over meals as often as I have been. With my new job, I have less time to cook.”

  • Acknowledge the impact: “I know you like my cooking, and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at making meals that follow your special diet.”

  • Say what you can do and suggest alternatives: “I can keep making meals once or twice a month, for sure. I can also help with shopping, looking for prepared foods that would be good for you. And if you like, I can ask Roberta if she could help cook. If she’s willing, I’ll share my recipes with her.”

During the discussion, focus on understanding others’ views. When people do agree, point that out. When you make new plans, restate them and write them down, to help everyone understand and remember them.


Try to end on a positive note. If you can, agree on next steps, like making a list of who’s doing different tasks or asking others if they can help the older adult.