Recently, I visited my parents, who are both elderly and facing health challenges. My father, who is 81 years old, is struggling physically and had to decide to put my mother, his spouse of 58 years, into long-term care. My mother, who is 77 years old, suffers from late-onset Alzheimer’s. As their only child, I make it a point to fly from my home in Houston, Texas, to where they live south of Orlando, Florida, twice a year to help my father with his needs and visit my mother, who still remembers me.
During my most recent visit, I learned valuable lessons I want to share.
Lesson 1: Be Patient
Just because you know something or understand it quickly doesn’t mean that the person you’re talking to, regardless of age, will also grasp it quickly. It’s essential to go at the speed the other person can absorb and understand what you’re saying. As you teach or communicate with them, allow them time to “get it.” Keep in mind that everyone is different and learns at their own pace.
Pro tip: Be patient and adjust your communication style to match the other person’s understanding level.
Lesson 2: Know When to Stop Pushing
For years, I tried to convince my father to stop writing checks for his monthly bills, which used to be done by my mother. It was a source of stress for him, but it needed to be done. Despite appearing open to the idea at times, my father would always tell me clearly, “No.” It was difficult for me to let it go, but I reluctantly did. However, I would still bring up the subject whenever I could.
My father finally agreed to set up auto-pay for his bills during my recent visit. But instead of just telling him how to do it, I did it for him. This way, his main bills will be automatically paid, and he only has to write checks for a few items.
Lesson 3: Do it For Them
When you’re trying to help someone, sometimes it’s more effective to do things for them than just telling them what to do. Taking action on their behalf can alleviate their stress and make things easier for them. Of course, it’s important to respect their autonomy and involve them in decision-making as much as possible.
Lesson 4: Give Lots of Love and Praise
Expressing love and praise can never go wrong when trying to help someone. It works wonders, especially with those you care about the most and wants to support or convince. However, it’s important to note that this should not be used as a manipulation tactic. Genuine love and praise can create a positive atmosphere and foster a trusting relationship.
Lesson 5: Practice Empathy
Remember that people cannot read your mind, and you cannot read theirs. It’s important to seek to understand what the other person is going through and be empathetic toward their feelings and experiences. They may be dealing with issues you are unaware of, so showing empathy can help you connect with them on a deeper level and provide better support.
Lesson 6: Be a Good Listener
Listening is a skill that requires practice. Often, we are eager to respond or provide solutions before the other person has finished speaking. It’s important to remind yourself to let the other person finish before responding. When you actively listen, you may be amazed at what you learn, which may even change your perspective or response.
These are the lessons I learned from my recent visit with my father, but they can apply to anyone. Next time you communicate with another person, try incorporating one or all of these ideas.