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What Not to Say to Senior Adult

senior man talking to son about what not to say to a senior

Senior adults are, at the core, adults. They are real people with real stories, genuine emotions, and real-life experiences. And yet, with the day-to-day humdrum of life, it can sometimes be easy to overlook the things we love most about these older adults while getting frustrated with the changes aging brings. Amid these changes, there are certain things not to say, something we may not even realize we’re saying.

A leading journalistic resource for senior adults and their families, author Linda Bernstein expertly lists eight things of what not to say to a senior adult. At Buckner Retirement Services, we’ve developed our list of what not to say to a senior. We strive to make our Buckner Retirement Community feel respected, happy, and independent.

What Not to Say to a Senior

When talking to a senior parent, you may not realize what you are saying or what you’re saying is offensive. However, specific phrases and actions can hurt your senior parent. They deserve your respect and should be treated as an equal, not a child. Please be mindful when speaking to your parent because, ultimately, we know you want the best for them. Here is our list of what not to say to a senior.


“Sweetie,” “sugar,” or any variation of the two carry an inherent childlike tone. But senior adults are not children. They are grown adults with stories, histories, and achievements. They’ve lived more life than some of their caregivers have combined and deserve the love and respect of an adult. Instead of Sweetie, say “Mrs. Smith.” You can still provide tender affection with a soft touch or a gentle hug, but using a person’s name promotes dignity and respect.

“Don’t You Remember?”

While some senior adults living with memory impairment don’t recognize their changing brains, others do. They feel genuine frustration with their growing lack of control over their bodies. Asking why they can’t remember only adds to the disappointment and places the blame on the senior rather than on the Alzheimer’s or dementia itself. Instead of asking questions, it may be helpful to listen. Then, provide your comments. For example, instead of asking, “Don’t you remember, we talked about this yesterday!” say simply, “Yes, we are going out to eat tonight. Would you like to join us?”

“You Need to…”

Senior adults have spent their lives giving and serving. They don’t need to be told what to do. Instead of giving directions, give choices. Say, “Mom, would you like to wear your sweater, or would you like to go without one?” Choices empower the senior adult to make the decisions for themselves. It puts them back in control, even as things around them feel out of control. At the end of the day, a person is still a person. Recognizing that first and foremost will help further interactions with older adults to be fruitful and honoring to both parties. It helps minimize stress and maximize engagement.

Talking to a Senior Adult with Respect

Senior adults want respect, especially from their adult children. Here are some tips for talking to a senior adult with respect:

  • Use proper names and titles when talking to them
  • Avoid using nicknames unless the senior adult has expressly said it’s okay
  • Don’t talk down to them or use a condescending tone
  • Avoid interrupting them when they’re talking
  • Don’t raise your voice at them, even if you think they didn’t hear you the first time
  • Ask them for their opinion on things
  • Thank them for their advice, even if you don’t plan on following it
  • Respect their privacy
  • Be patient with them
  • Don’t dismiss their feelings or experiences

Learn More Ways of Talking to a Senior Adult at Buckner Retirement Services

If you’re struggling with ways of talking to your senior parent, we can help you discover what’s acceptable and not acceptable when talking to a senior adult. The senior adult in your life will be more receptive if you’re respectful and patient. Call us today at 214.227.7182 to learn more about how you can talk to your senior parent.