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4 Things You Should Never Say to Your Aging Parents

Tips for voicing your concerns effectively

3. "How can you live in such a messy house?"

Besides being downright insulting, this comment ignores the fact that many seniors don't realize that their standards of cleanliness have slipped.

A better way: First, determine whether she's let the housework go because she physically can't do it and simply needs help getting it done. Or, is she deteriorating mentally and doesn't realize the dirty dishes are in the living room?

If it's the former, begin the conversation with an offer: "Mom, I have an idea: Why don't we ask some of the strong young adults in the family to do some heavy cleaning around here? I'll buy the pizza." Of, if you can afford it, hire a cleaning person to come in. Seniors are often very willing to accept help around the house, and most communities have resources such as cleaning services or aides who can perform certain household tasks. While you're on the subject, suggest some inexpensive home improvements to help her live more safely at home: a higher toilet seat or grab bars in the bathroom, devices that can help her reach items on high shelves, etc.

4. "Why are you wearing that same old jacket?"

If Mom was a fashionista and Dad as meticulous as Gary Grant, it can be dismaying to see them neglect their personal appearance. But this isn't something to ignore: Their wardrobe choices could signal such problems as failing eyesight, inability to dress themselves or even serious symptoms of depression. But don't jump to conclusions or make insensitive remarks.

A better way: You need to pick your battles. As long as a senior is safe and healthy, this should not be one of them. Still, it doesn't hurt to offer help: Ask your parent whether he needs help doing laundry. Is it hard now to transport clothing to the washer and dryer? Find ways to make this task easier and safer, or offer to do it for him. Also, find out whether certain wardrobe items — a jacket with small buttons, a dress that zips up the back — are too difficult to manage. Help your parent find clothing that is comfortable and easy to put on — and will make him look and feel better.

Also of interest: Have a caregiving question? Ask AARP's panel of experts.

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