Myth 1: Slower pace = lower capacity
While age does affect the speed at which we process information, it does not necessarily diminish our ability to reason, manage information, or make decisions.
Myth 2: Logic makes sense
One effect of aging is that the right brain takes on a dominant role as gatekeeper for new information. Because the right brain typically interprets intonations and facial expressions, it can be more effective to communicate with Mom or Dad by telling stories and using metaphors. This does not mean that seniors are illogical! It means that logic must be delivered relationally.
Myth 3: Interest = urgency
Seniors are at a stage of life with a different psychological agenda. This is a time of reflection rather than rushing, of consideration rather than conquering. Typically, this means they will not respond to artificial deadlines, high-pressure techniques, or other gimmicks designed to create urgency. This can be frustrating if you’ve been given the responsibility to convince Mom or Dad to move to a retirement community! But remember, the fact that they are not ready to move right now does not mean they aren’t interested. If you have a relationship they trust, they will signal when they are ready to move forward.
Myth 4: Rambling conversations should be re-directed
In their “reflection” stage of life, older adults use non-linear conversations to sift through experiences, evaluate their importance, and come to conclusions about values. By paying attention to these “ramblings,” you can gain clues about what is meaningful to them.
Myth 5: Repetition = forgetfulness
Repetition is actually a way to highlight the people and moments that are particularly meaningful. If you hear the same story from a loved one over and over, try to figure out what values that story conveys.
Myth 6: The choice is clear
Sometimes seniors make decisions that don’t seem to make sense. For example, to staff and residents at Providence communities, the benefits of moving seem obvious — we offer more amenities at lower cost! But by listening to someone’s values, as mentioned above, we might come to understand that “savings” is not as important as “control,” or convenience is less important than memories. The choice may seem clear to us, but we haven’t factored those values in.
Myth 7: Stubbornness must be outlasted
“Control” can be an important value for our parents and grandparents who are in the end phase of their lives. Rather than trying to convince them or outlast them, why not reassure them? Show your respect by using questions like:
- How do you want to manage this situation?
- This is your decision. How can I help you get the information you need?
- Is it important for you to maintain your independence even after your health changes?
- What choices are most important to you?
Understanding the physical, emotional, mental, and value changes that can happen during the final phase of life can help you receive communication differently from the seniors in your life. And that’s the key to meaningful relationships!