Changing Bad Habits of Elderly Parents

By Tom Lee, 10:09 am on
changing-bad-habits-together

“My Mother Won’t Listen to Me!”

Have you ever found yourself commenting how Mom’s not getting enough activity lately, neglecting her diet, or leaving dirty dishes in the kitchen sink for days? It may seem like your opinion doesn’t matter and it’s falling on deaf ears.

So, can you help Mom or Dad create a healthier habit? The answer is…maybe. But, anyone can learn a few persuasion techniques. For one thing, if you want her to listen to you, ditch your lecture and try a simple conversation instead.

Why are Habits Difficult to Change?

The word “habit” is defined in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary as “a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior,” such as the habit of taking a morning walk. This means you can’t just demand a change of behavior from a parent – or anyone else! It’s challenging to let go of a familiar patterned behavior!

Don’t We All Have Some Poor Habits?

So, what do you think? Don’t you have unhealthy habits, too? Have you ever had success in lifestyle changes? If you say yes, good for you! Still, remember that it’s not easy to change routine in our own lives, so asking someone else to change is that much more difficult. It’s a different story altogether.

Be Kind If You’re Asking For Change

In reality, our aging parents are probably already thinking about making changes. Don’t irritate the situation with condescending language. Don’t create anger and resentment that could exasperate the bad habit.

Be compassionate and consider how your parent could be feeling. Lovingly tell your aging parent that you understand how they must be feeling.

Apathetic Parents?

Investigate a little further. Is the lack of initiative a reaction to recent stress or life change? Maybe it’s a health-related issue? Or has an increase in isolation created depression and apathy? Maybe the parent is thinking, “Who cares if I have dirty dishes anyway? Why should I even make an effort?” Tell them how important they are to you, and consider helping with professional elderly care.

Good Habits Can Replace Bad Habits

And if a parent agrees to change, then what’s next? Teri Goetz, a writer for Psychology Today, says that just willing yourself to change isn’t enough. Assist them with making a plan, then give them the tools for change, like replacement behaviors so they can successfully replace unwanted behaviors with new, healthier habits.

As an example, if your aging parent decides to give up smoking, healthier activities like container gardening, working on puzzles with friends, or taking walks might be enough to boost willpower during a moment of craving.

Social Connections are Powerful

Your parent’s social connections can help or deter their efforts to change. If they’re around others who smoke, it will make it difficult for them to quit, but perhaps you can offer loving elderly care and assistance by spending more time with them for a while. Rebuild their sense of belonging by working with them as a team as they create their new lifestyle change. If your parent knows you’re in their corner, it’s going to be easier for them. You may even inspire a greater optimism in your parent.

Changing a habit is difficult but people feel better when they develop a sense of control over their own life.

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

From Tricky to Simple.

Behavior changes are sometimes tricky. Those who have worked in elderly care suggest this commonsense advice:  Keep it simple.

B.J. Fogg , the creator of the Tiny Habits® Program, says that only three things create long-term changes in behavior:

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

As B.J. explains that the last two are your best choices because you can make changes in your environment and baby steps are doable for anyone. He more clearly defines these in his program which helps people accomplish their goals. Achieving a goal will create a sense of accomplishment for your parent, as well.

Who Should Approach the Parents?

Hmmm, are you the best person to have this difficult conversation with your parent(s) about change? Perhaps there is an ally you can consider in their elderly care that could bring it up. At the very least, plan ahead, opting for a good time of day, and appropriate privacy when having this conversation.

Aging expert, Carolyn Rosenblatt, says that the adult children assisting in their parents’ elderly care can often ease the situation by allowing some blame to fall on themselves, rather than the parents. You might get better results in improving your mother’s eating habits by saying something like this…

“Mom, I don’t mean to be a pain and a worry wart, but I’m concerned as to whether you have enough quality food in the house. Do you think it might be okay if I just ask someone to stop by for a visit, shop, and do some light cooking for you once in a while? I just love you and would feel better if we did this.”

Be Patient!

Be patient with your elderly parents. They need your encouragement in making changes. Have patience and compassion and assist with a spirit of teamwork. A sense of humor can help, too!

Resources:

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