Caregiving Wellbeing

Changing Bad Habits of Elderly Parents

Worried About Your Parents’ Habits?

You’re not alone if you worry about your parents’ habits. Maybe you’ve noticed that they’re slowing down, not going to their exercise classes, leaving dishes in the sink, or neglecting their personal hygiene and you want to help because you love them and care about them. Still, you may find that you just can’t get through to them about changing some of their habits.
Maybe it’s possible to help change parents’ habits but consider first your communication style and timing. Pick your battles carefully, too. It really won’t hurt if dishes are left in the sink for a day, but if activity level has decreased and they’re physically weakening, that’s different. Don’t start off with a lecture or you’ll end the conversation quickly. Initiate difficult conversations when the parent is feeling amenable, which may be during or right after a good meal. It’s helpful to maintain a lighthearted sense of humor, too.

Changing Habits

“Habit” is defined by as “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” Changing habits is hard, whether it’s a healthy habit or not. You can insist that your parent make changes, but that won’t do any good. That’s just not how it works.

Change Isn’t Easy

If you keep in mind that change isn’t easy, and acknowledge that you may even have some unhealthy habits yourself, you’ll have a softer approach.

Help Your Parents with Change

Your parents may already want to change, so don’t nag and irritate them! That could frustrate and annoy your parent and make them less willing to cooperate.
Help parents make changes by gently clarifying your concern to them, while trying to understand their feelings at the same time.

What Else Might Be Going On?

Sometimes there’s something else going on and you can get a better understanding by asking open-ended questions to uncover the underlying issue. Has your parent become less social because of a recent loss that you were unaware of? Is there possibly a health issue? Is your Mom or Dad feeling isolated? Show your concern for their well-being while offering your loving elderly care. Support your parent as you explain that people do notice and care when their home isn’t as well-kept as it used to be, not too long ago. If hygiene is the issue, you might suggest professional elderly care.

Plan for Healthy New Habits

If your parent wants to have some healthier habits, how can you help? Teri Goetz, a writer for Psychology Today, advises success will be more likely if you create a plan adding healthy behaviors to replace unwanted ones. As an example, if Dad wants to quit smoking, you may need to be creative with a few ideas for when the cravings hit. That might be a good time for him to call a friend or family member or take a 5-minute walk around the block. Help your parent find their replacement activities, as tools for their success.

Social Connections Can Help or Hinder

Our social connections can powerfully help or hinder us. If smoking is the issue, it will be hard for your parent to be around other smokers initially. This is a great time to temporarily expand your elderly care and take your parent to lunch. Find additional opportunities with them while they are struggling to change. Instill in them a sense of value in the family. Show how important they are to you while they’re trying to make lifestyle changes.

  1. Allow Your Parent to Accept Help Graciously
  2. Juggling Your Parents’ Independence and Safety
  3. How to Tackle Difficult Conversations Around Care

Tiny Habits

Creating new habits is hard, so consider Tiny Habits to get started!
B.J. Fogg , author of the book Tiny Habits, and a coordinating program for self-help says there are only three things that create long-term behavior changes:

  1. An epiphany.
  2. A change in the environment.
  3. Baby steps.

You can’t create an epiphany, but you could make a change in the environment and take baby steps towards change. Removing cigarettes from your home would be a commonsense change to your environment and you can take baby steps, one minute, hour or day at a time. Assist your parent in feeling a sense of accomplishment step by step.

Are You Really the Best for This Conversation?

Sometimes you really aren’t the best person to initiate a conversation about change with your parents. If there’s a respected mutual friend or ally that’s been familiar with their elderly care, it could be great for them to get the conversation started.
Carolyn Rosenblatt, a notable author, and expert in the field of aging, says that a request for a change of habit is usually received well when blame is tolerated by the adult child in order to help the parent be more open. Something like this would be suggested…
“Dad, I know I sometimes worry too much, but right now I’m concerned about your smoking. I was hoping I could go along with you on your next doctor appointment to ask about new ways to quit smoking? I love you so much, Dad, and I want you to be around a long time yet.”
Have Patience when Helping with Elderly Care
Have patience when helping with elderly care. Older people may have long-ingrained habits and they need encouragement and compassion. And remember that a sense of humor is always a helpful tool, as well!

  1. How to Change Unhealthy Habits, by Teri Goetz
  2. TinyHabits
  3. Persuading Our Stubborn Aging Parents, by Carolyn Rosenblatt

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