Ways to support your relationship with the older adult


Solutions to nurture your relationship with the older adult include:

  • Discussing feelings

  • Exploring options

  • Fitting your help and relationship together

  • Enjoying time together


Discussing feelings

Sharing your feelings and concerns with the older adult can help you work together.


Before you start the conversation, ask yourself:

  • Am I feeling calm and well-rested?

  • Does the older adult seem calm and well-rested?

  • Are we in a space where we’ll both feel comfortable discussing our emotions?

  • Is something or someone else likely to interrupt or rush us?

  • What do I want to get out of this discussion?

  • What assumptions might I be making? Am I open to other possibilities?

If you’re not used to discussing feelings with the older adult, start small. Share something that might bother or confuse you, but doesn’t really upset you. Ask how the older adult feels.


Listen carefully to what the older adult says. Non-verbal communication can tell you more about how the older adult feels. For example, does the older adult seem happy, scared, angry, relaxed or upset when you focus on:

  • The words that the older adult is using

  • How loudly or quickly the older adult is speaking

  • The older adult’s tone of voice

  • The older adult’s facial expression

  • How the older adult is standing, sitting or gesturing

Be prepared for the older adult to have negative or positive reactions. Assume that the older adult means well.


Ask open-ended questions like: “What might make that less stressful for you?” or “Is there another way we might be able to do that?”


Point out when you and the older adult agree. Make clear that you respect differences of opinion.


Try to end on a positive note. For example: “Thanks for talking that through. We might feel differently, but now we understand each other’s views.”


Exploring options

When you and the older adult need to make a decision or solve a problem, avoid jumping to conclusions.


Talk to the older adult to figure out:

  • Do you agree on what the decision or problem is?

  • What information does each of you have or want to get?

  • Whose advice does each of you value?

  • Are you open to and have time to explore different options?

  • Do you agree about who makes the final decision?

To get more information and explore different options:

  • Talk to experts, such as legal, financial, health or social work professionals.

  • Talk to others who help older adults, including support group members and staff at Senior Centers, Aging and Disability Resource Centers, Aging Units or Area Agencies on Aging.

  • Ask family and friends for their advice and contacts.

  • Split the problem up, to see if each part might have different solutions. For example, if the older adult needs to make diet changes, consider options for meal planning, then grocery shopping, and then cooking.

  • Combine options, such as having family help on some days and paid staff on others.

  • List strengths, like nearby family or friends, good benefits or strong community programs. What options make use of those strengths?

Fitting your help and relationship together

Think about what is and isn’t under your control.


For example, if you bring the older adult a healthy meal, how the older adult responds may have little or nothing to do with you. Can you let go of your disappointment, if the older adult is too tired, sick or worried to enjoy the meal?


If the older adult’s needs change, you might help in different ways over time. Some kinds of help might “fit” your relationship with the older adult better than others.


For example, a son might not feel comfortable helping his mother bathe or use the bathroom. Regularly giving help like this can cause real stress.


If the help you’re giving the older adult doesn’t fit your relationship, ask:

  • Could someone else do the tasks that aren’t comfortable for you?

  • Could getting training or support help you to do the tasks in a way that’s more comfortable for you? Could talking to people with similar experiences help you feel differently about the tasks?

  • Has your relationship with the older adult changed? If so, do the tasks fit your relationship with the older adult today?

Enjoying time together


Avoid always focusing on tasks and problems when you see the older adult. Try to balance “serious” talk with time enjoying each other’s company.


Set aside some time for you and the older adult to do things you like together. Suggest relaxing activities, like looking at pictures, taking a walk, watching a movie, visiting friends, or making and eating a meal together.