If it's time to have a scary talk with aging parents, you'll need these tips.

Need to have a scary talk with your aging parents? If you’re noticing physical or mental changes, it’s time. Worried? Here’s practical help for what to say.

Is it time to have a scary talk with aging parents? This guide will help.
Pin Me!

For even more courage, print this beautifully formatted AGING MANIFESTO.

My mom had gorgeous legs. Even into her seventies, they were noticeably slim and muscular. Although she never had a gym membership, she loved to walk. She was known through the neighborhood for her brisk strolls, always taking time to stop and chat with anyone on her path.

The day I outpaced her is forever frozen in my memory. I realized she was walking as fast as she comfortably could, but I was able to easily pass her if I chose. Terrifying.

Funny how that one little milestone tipped the scales in my mind. Although she was still the parent, my role as daughter was changing.

Scary Talk With Aging Parents

Chances are, you’ve noticed a change in your parents’ health or behavior that’s made you concerned or even a little frightened.

  • Changes in hygiene
  • Memory lapses
  • Physical limitations
  • Health scares

These and so many other signs can trigger the need to have a scary talk with aging parents.

When talking with older adults it is critical to understand how loss begins to define so much of their world: loss of health, finances, friends, mobility, and control, to name just a few.


My mother was famous for her withering stare. It was a technique perfected over many years of teaching unruly students. She had a special talent for honing in on the classroom trouble maker and, with one look, letting them know she’d have none of it.

Did your parents keep you in line with their withering glare?
Did your parent keep you in line with a withering glare?

Years after she’d retired, we’d be at a restaurant or movie when one of my mom’s former students would approach. They would always give her a big hug and let her know how much she had influenced them, despite her strict code of class conduct.

My siblings and I were raised to have a good dose of fear when it came to anything that might disappoint or upset a parent. If your upbringing was anything like mine, no wonder you’re terrified to bring up aging topics.

This beautiful AGING MANIFESTO will keep you on track.

It’s an uncomfortable no man’s land when roles begin to reverse for parents and children. As our parents become less independent, we must find a way to become more involved-while still showing them the courtesy and respect they drummed into us as kids.

The awkwardness is compounded when long-standing grievances and complicated family issues loom in the background. It’s natural to put off difficult conversations with parents when we feel sure they will dredge up the past.

What Are You Scared of?

Before you go any further, take the time to get in touch with your feelings and motivations surrounding having a scary talk with aging parents.

Get together with a friend, counselor or social worker and identify specific fears that keep you from taking charge of the conversation:

  • Past conflict
  • Sibling rivalry
  • Financial differences
  • Generational misunderstandings

When asked what makes communication within families most difficult, my readers responded with one general concept: lack of respect.

Looking for an AGING MANIFESTO to help you seize Empty Nest?

Differences in values and lifestyles can scatter emotional landmines in even the most loving family conversations. We often spend so much energy side-stepping conflict that we never reach a satisfying conclusion.

Even though it’s easier to avoid tough topics with aging parents, some subjects need to be addressed.

It might be time to have a scary talk with aging parents. Here's how to navigate it safely.
Underneath the smiles, there are probably some tough feelings…

Keep reading for some practical tools and tips to take a bit of the fear out of having a necessary conversation with your aging parent.

When Safety Is An Issue

According to the National Institute on Aging, some of the most common safety issues for older adults include:

  • Danger of poisoning from medication interactions
  • Falls and altered balance
  • Driving accidents
  • Weather related safety (hypothermia or sun stroke)
  • Food poisoning

Perhaps you noticed one of these dangers during your last visit, or it’s something that’s been on your mind quite awhile. In either case, your instincts to bring up safety issues with your aging parent are steering you in the right direction.

An essential component of risk assessment includes an examination of an individual’s strengths, resources, and willingness to accept intervention. 

BC Medical Journal

Rather than starting a scary talk with aging parents on the wrong foot, make sure to begin by communicating your love and concern.

Let them know you care deeply for them and simply want to share what’s on your mind. Be careful not to set an “end goal” for the conversation. Remember, they may be just as frightened of having their freedom limited as you are to talk about their safety.

It's time to have a scary talk with aging parents if they are in danger of mixing up their medications.
Medication interactions and mistakes are a safety concern.

Unless there is an immediate risk, be willing to have multiple conversations before expecting any kind of action. Give your aging parent time to mull things over and talk with their friends. Yes, even to gripe about your poking around in their business!

Check the free resources at the end of this post for tools to help navigate a discussion on safety.

Avoid These Mistakes

One sure way to end a scary talk with aging parents is getting pulled off topic. Just like our younger selves were skilled at diverting our parents’ attention, they will probably try to change the subject.

If this happens, acknowledge the diversion with a statement such as “this is really hard to talk about, isn’t it?”, or “if this isn’t a good time, I can bring it up again later.”

Responses like these let your parent know you’ve heard them, but you care too much to drop the subject.

This is not a time to make things fair among siblings or to right past transgressions (real or perceived) within the family.

Next Avenue

Secondly, avoid getting into a verbal tug of war. In the end, your parent is an adult and usually has the last say whether or not to address the issues you’ve brought up. Resolve at the outset not to let accusations or emotions derail your intentions.

Avoid a verbal tug of war when talking to your aging parents.
No one wins a verbal tug of war.

Sometimes the best response is no response. A simple nod of the head or neutral expression like “hmm” will do the trick. This tip often diffuses an initial explosion and leads to a productive outcome. (Bonus: it works with kids, too!)

Make Sure You Do This

If you already enjoy a positive relationship, having a scary talk with your aging parent will probably be easier. But even if your past is rocky, make sure to communicate several key concepts.

Whether or not you’re convinced they deserve it, give them your respect. The Golden Rule applies here.

Plan for plenty of time to talk in a quiet place where your parents will feel calm and can focus on the conversation.


You can do this by waiting for an unhurried time when you can talk privately. Perhaps write them a note first, letting them know you’ll be reaching out to set up a time.

There’s safety in numbers. Consider inviting a sibling or trusted friend to come along. Having a third party can not only make sure you both stay on your best behavior, but can also give other perspectives and options the two of you may not have considered.

Explore these 5 excellent resources for specific help and courage:

Whether you’ve just begun to outpace your parent or that happened long ago, here’s hoping you’ve found some practical help to move forward-together.

Please share! How do you plan to use this information? Do you have a strategy that’s been especially helpful?

Avoid limiting mindsets with this beautifully formatted AGING MANIFESTO.

Is it time to have a scary talk with aging parents? This guide will help.
Aging parents have trouble talking about their fears. Here's how to help.
You need to have this scary talk with aging parents. Here's how.