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Unintentional Jabs: Don’t say these things to aging parents. Here’s what to say instead…

It’s important to be patient with aging parents.

Teenagers often think they know more than their parents. Spoiler alert, they don’t. The same is actually true for middle agers. We may think we know more than our older parents, but alas, we do not either. Whether you are an adult child with an aging parent, or you are the aging parent, it’s normal to feel scared and even frustrated with change.

Dr. Kerry Burnight, a geriatric medicine specialist, was born to older parents, which gave her a unique perspective on aging from an early age. This experience sparked her interest in gerontology and led her to dedicate her career to understanding the challenges and transitions that come with growing older. She shared ways to better communicate with aging parents, and some unintentional jabs to avoid.


Empathy and Understanding

Change is a constant in life, and it can be particularly challenging as we age. We often find ourselves frustrated with our own transitions and those of others, especially when they are at different stages in life. It’s a universal experience that spans our lifetime.

One of the key aspects of dealing with aging parents is empathy. It’s important to put ourselves in our parents’ shoes and understand that they are ahead of us in life’s journey. This perspective helps us realize that, much like our teenage selves, we don’t know everything.

Unintentional Jabs

Dr. Burnight shared some common unintentional jabs that can hurt both the person saying them and the one hearing them.

Memory Jabs

Memory jabs include questioning someone’s memory or expressing disbelief at their forgetfulness.

  • “How can you not remember that?”
  • “You already told me that.”

Instead of pointing out these errors, we should let them slide and gently correct them in the flow of conversation.

Competency Jabs

It’s easy to take over tasks that our older loved ones are struggling with, but this can undermine their confidence.

  • “It’s not hard.”
  • “Here, just let me do it.”

Instead, we should offer help in a respectful and patient manner.

Relevance Jabs

Relevance jabs are when we dismiss the topics our older loved ones bring up.

  • “What does that have to do with what we’re talking about?”

Their perspectives and experiences are valuable.

Making Older Better Together

Dr. Burnight’s work aims to change the narrative around aging. She believes that by avoiding these unintentional jabs and having better communication, we can make the process of growing older better for everyone.

Find more advice from Dr. Burnight at

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