Needed: Better Communication with Older Parents

Better processes are needed to help improve communication between elderly parents and adult children, researchers say.

Such communication is often prompted by parents insisting on what they want or resisting suggestions – in other words, by stubbornness.

Steven Zarit, Distinguished Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, Penn State, said the struggle for independence takes place as many older adults try to keep the life they lived and the people they were.

The goal of the research was not to identify whether individuals are “stubborn,” but rather to understand perceptions of older parents and their adult children regarding such behavior. “Finding better ways.. is really important,” Zarit said.

In their study, the researchers found that stubborn behaviors have occurred more than once in the past few months for more than 90 percent of families interviewed, according to a news release from Penn State.

Three-fourths of children and two-thirds of aging parents in the sample said that at least one of the behaviors — insisting, resisting or persisting — is happening sometimes, the news release said. The children aren’t acting as caregivers but are giving support to their parents. And conflicts surrounding these issues could act as a barrier to providing support.

“Helping families learn how to talk about older adults’ preferences and about goal differences may be important in helping families best support older adults,” said llison Heid, project director, New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging, Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine and recent Penn State Ph.D. recipient. “However, this may mean we need to do additional work and research to develop the best strategies to do so.”

“For families providing support to an older adult, this work confirms that these behaviors happen, but also that there is room for continued communication to ensure that there are shared goals in care and support,” Heid said.

The findings were published in the journal Gerontology: Psychology Sciences.

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