by Marie Villeza, elderimpact.org
We all want the best for our aging parents: For them to age in good health, surrounded by family and friends, with the independence to enjoy their golden years to the fullest. So what do you do when your senior parents’ habits are at odds with those goals?
Older adults aren’t immune to the impacts of an unhealthy lifestyle. In fact, lifestyle choices are a leading driver of chronic disease and mobility loss in the aging population. The good news? It’s never too late to improve your habits and, in turn, your health.
How to Broach the Conversation
A gentle approach is key when discussing a senior parent’s unhealthy habits. Remember: Your goal is to get your mom or dad to see the benefits of healthy choices, not to feel guilty about unhealthy ones.
First, pick your battles wisely. Your dad putting too much salt on his dinner probably isn’t worth squabbling over, even if it’s not great for his blood pressure. Focus on the serious issues and you’re more likely to be taken seriously than seen as nitpicking.
You should also give advice that’s doable considering their current lifestyle. If your parents have spent many of their years sedentary, you probably can’t convince them to start running 5Ks, but you can make the case for going on walks and doing balance exercises.
Finally, avoid talking down to your parents. Instead of scolding them for unhealthy choices, talk about your parents’ goals for the future and how those goals align with their health.
3 Key Ways Seniors Can Improve Their Health
What unhealthy habits are worth discussing? These are three habit changes with big potential to improve a senior’s health.
Physically inactive seniors have a greater risk of developing chronic illnesses and losing their functional ability and independence. A sedentary lifestyle also contributes to fall risk, a major concern for older adults.
If your parents avoid exercise due to a fear of falling, discuss how exercise builds strength and mobility so they’re less likely to get hurt. If they’re open to exercise but unsure where to start, look into the Silver Sneakers program, which is offered for free through select Medicare Advantage plans. Silver Sneakers provides access to fitness centers and fitness classes designed specifically for older adults.
According to the AARP, 87 percent of adults over 65 want to stay in their homes as they grow older. While this desire is understandable, not all homes are equipped to support seniors with potential medical and mobility issues. Begin by asking the question: “Is my parents’ home as safe as it could be to prevent an accident, and would it be easy to get help in an emergency?”
If the answer is “no,” or “I’m not sure,” it is worth spending some time with your parents to research aging in place and become familiar with home design solutions that can make life safer and easier.
Most seniors want to age at home, but if your parents’ home is unsafe, there’s a good chance they’ll have to move into a long-term care facility someday. Not only does an unsafe home increase a senior’s risk of falling, it also leaves them without a safe, accessible home to return to after an injury.
Speak to your parents’ desire to remain independent. They may be reluctant to convert the front steps to a ramp or install grab bars from an aesthetic standpoint, but when small changes like these make the difference between aging-in-place or aging in a nursing home, it’s easier to see the value of remodeling. If their current house isn’t suited to aging-in-place remodeling, you may need to discuss selling the family home and moving.
Few things are more worrying than a senior parent with an alcohol problem. Alcohol abuse can worsen a senior’s physical, cognitive, and financial health. Whether it’s a new problem or an old one, excessive drinking is worth talking about.
You can’t force a parent to stop drinking, but you can share your concern. Find a time when your parent is sober to have a discussion and focus on the behaviors that worry you, like mixing medications and alcohol or falling down while drinking. Avoid labels like “alcoholic” or “addiction;” even if they’re apt, it’s unlikely to lead to a productive discussion. If your parent is receptive, discuss treatment options.
Personally if your parents aren’t interested in hearing what you have to say. After years of parenting, it’s not easy for older adults to switch roles and start accepting advice. If you’re not able to get through to your parents, share your concerns with their doctor. Sometimes hearing it from a medical professional is the push seniors need to make a change.