Supporting our elderly parents
As our parents enter their golden
years, we might feel concerned about the changes in
Read on to find out how we can better support our parents’ mental health and well-being.
Tips on supporting our elderly parents
When communicating with our parents, it is useful to take note of the following:
Be patient and supportive
Take time to listen to their feelings, thoughts and needs. Give them the space and time to respond and express what is on their mind. Offering comfort and reassurance can encourage them to share their thoughts with us.
As our parents age, their ability to carry out daily functions may not be as good as before. We should avoid being critical or dismissive when communicating with our elderly parents and understand that they are not children who need parenting.
Our parents might have a hard time asking for support directly for fear of burdening us. Here are some tips we can try to make it easier for them to share their feelings with us:
- By observing their body language and paying close attention to their words, we may be able to take notice of what they are really trying to say.
- If they convey anxiety or frustration surrounding a particular task, we can ask if they need our assistance.
- Even if they may be reluctant to accept our help, we can show that we care and let them know that we are here if they need any support. We can repeat our offer but be mindful not to force the issue unless their safety is at stake.
Be mindful of our tone and volume
We can speak slowly and clearly, using a
gentle and calm tone. Speaking loudly might also be
distressing for our elderly parents. If they have
trouble hearing, we can consider getting them hearing
aids or making use of visual aids to facilitate
Click here to learn more tips on how to navigate challenging conversations with empathy and care, so that we can better support our parents.
Prioritise their well-being
If our parents are acting unusual,
neglecting themselves or endangering their own safety,
we may have to step in for their best
For example, elderlies with dementia may not be aware that their abilities have changed and that they are unable to perform normal routines safely.
We can try communicating more with them or increasing the frequency of our visits to support and care for them.
Different mental health challenges
Our parents might experience some changes and losses at this stage of their lives which can affect their mental health and well-being. As their child, we can learn about the mental health challenges they might face so that we can better support them.
Emerging health concerns and life transitions
such as retirement or taking care of a new grandchild might
bring about stress. It is important that we help our parents
manage it before it overwhelms them.
Click here to learn more tips that we can share with our parents about how seniors can manage stress.
When things get overwhelming or do not happen
as expected, our parents might experience intense emotions.
We can help them learn to be more aware of their emotions
and manage them better.
Click here to learn more tips that you can share with your parents about managing emotions.
1 in every 10 people aged 60 years old and above has dementia. Caring for someone with dementia can be intense and challenging. To learn more about how we can support our elderly parents living with dementia, click here.
It is normal to feel sad occasionally but if
we notice our parents feeling down over an extended period,
they could be suffering from depression. Click here to find out more about
depression and how we can better support our
Here are some tips on caring for parents with depression:
Be patient and understanding
can drain a person’s energy and
drive. At times, our parents might
appear irritable, impatient, or say
hurtful things but try to not take it to
heart as these may be due to their
condition and not necessarily directed
at us. For older parents, we should be
careful not to dismiss some of these
symptoms as part of ageing.
Here are other things to take note of when our parents are not acting in their usual ways:
- Empathise with them
- Know that they are trying their best
- Do not judge or criticise them
- Avoid telling them to be positive or “snap out of it”
- Refrain from blaming them or pressuring them to get well soon
Look out for warning signs of suicide
People with depression may have an increased risk of suicide . Be prepared by knowing the concerning behaviours to look out for. If our parents display any signs of suicide, take it seriously and consider seeking professional support.
OCD is one of the top three most common
mental health conditions and it can cause distress and
anxiety in our parents. To better support them, we can learn more
about what they are going through and how to
Here are some tips on caring for parents with OCD:
Manage our expectations and recognise small improvements
Give our parents
the time that they need to improve.
Their progress may sometimes seem
insignificant to us (e.g. a decrease
rather than complete stop in excessively
long showers), but it might have taken a
lot for them
We can encourage them to keep trying by consistently acknowledging their small accomplishments and praising them.
Avoid scolding or forcing them to stop their compulsive behaviours
Try to remain open and refrain from making negative remarks about their behaviours. Doing so might negatively affect our relationship instead of helping them. Show our support by lending a listening ear and encouraging them to share about their struggles.
Be mindful not to accommodate their obsessive thoughts and compulsions
assurance about their intrusive thoughts
or helping them perform certain rituals
as it will not be in their best interest
in the long term.
It is important to continue maintaining usual routines while not reinforcing OCD behaviours. We can also consider bringing our parents to seek professional help if it interferes with their daily lives.
It is normal to feel anxious at times but if
our parents’ daily lives are affected because they
feel excessively anxious, it could be a sign of anxiety
disorder. We can learn more
about what they are going through and when to seek help
to better support them in managing it.
Here are some tips on caring for parents with anxiety disorder:
Understand that supporting avoidance or forcing confrontation are not solutions
Avoidance is not
helpful for their anxiety in the long
run. Try not to help our parents avoid
situations that they are fearful of
(e.g. by taking over their task so they
can avoid doing them).
However, remember to practise discretion when doing this. If they start to show extreme fear, refrain from forcing them to confront the fear as it could cause them additional distress and affect their trust in us.
Encourage them to focus on things that they can control
Help our parents learn to identify what they can and cannot control. Being able to divert their attention and energy towards what can be controlled will help them improve their situation.
Refrain from asking them to stop worrying
Lend our parents a listening ear and validate their feelings instead of asking them to stop worrying. Let them know that it is okay not to be okay at times. We can also guide them to refocus their attention on other activities, like taking a walk, listening to music or going to a quiet corner where they can calm down.
At this stage of their lives, our parents may
experience different forms of change and loss. They may
experience worsening health and mobility, loss of loved ones
and social connections, or even a loss of income or
Some of these events may cause them to feel lonely, overwhelmed, or stressed. When these feelings become too much to handle, some might hurt or contemplate hurting themselves to seek relief.
Click here to learn more about self-harm and suicide as well as how to help our parents cope with it.
There may be times when our parents
experience losing someone or something precious to them,
such as a family member, a close friend, their job, or even
their health. As they express their grief from this loss,
they may experience difficult and overwhelming emotions such
as sadness or even despair.
To better support our parents, we can learn more about the effects of grief and how we can support them through it. Click here to find out more about coping with grief.
As our parents enter the later stages of
their lives, they will inevitably face changes such as
retirement, or adjusting to their loved ones moving out.
These might become a source of stress, worry or frustration
and may affect their mental and physical health.
Click here to learn useful tips on coping that we can share with them, as we help them through transitions that may occur in their lives.
Caring for our elderly parents can be tiring and frustrating
at times. This can take a toll on our physical and mental well-being.
Ultimately, the lack of self-care will make it more difficult for us to
care for them. This is also why we should not feel guilty about
attending to our needs.
Practising and prioritising self-care allows us to recharge and be ready to provide our parents with the support they need. Refer to these tips on managing stress and emotions to keep ourselves healthy.