Be Discreet with Elders

Unintended barbs cut to the quick and can’t be taken back. Try to work with an elder’s loss of short-term memory or declining cognition when speaking with them. Here are some options when speaking to elders:

  1. Hold your tongue; you are frustrated but think about them and repress your emotions.
  2. They forget. As reminders, say “see this sticker?” Place Post-it notes and smiley faces around to keep the tone light to keep reminding of an appointment.
  3. Older Americans want to maintain their independence. You don’t have to keep reminding them of their inadequacies. Try saying “let me watch and see where you are having difficulty so we can figure out how to get this done.” Maybe you can find someone to help them out, especially if you live a distance away.
  4. New technology is tough, especially for someone with failing eyesight or lessened cognition. Simplify their remote by color coding or finding a simpler senior version. Print out simple directions for them.
  5. Conversations with elders often “go rogue” as they can’t keep their mind on the subject. Keep bringing the conversation back to the topic if it is an important one to you or to them.
  6. Make light of the subject as they repeat a story to you. Make a joke out of it or lead them away from it without hurting their feelings or telling them you had already heard it. Try adding in a question or appropriate comment.
  7. Avoid telling an elder of possessions of theirs you want when they die. Encourage them to make a list of items to leave to special people, avoiding squabbles later on. Lead them into the conversation by telling how much someone admires a certain piece of furniture or dish or piece of jewelry.
  8. Don’t shhhh them when they are loudly whispering in public; distract so as not to bother others.
  9. Don’t take it personally when a senior keeps falling asleep on you. You may nudge and tell them there is something going on that they would not want to miss but don’t embarrass them.
  10. Gently remind your elder of someone’s name. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Being critical or angry as they lose names won’t help. A good motto is “reframe, don’t blame.” Help them by being discreet. From:


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