5 Ways to Respect the Elderly People in Your Life

5 Ways to Respect the Elderly People in Your Life
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 28 July, 2022

Our intolerance for old age is a contemporary evil that settled into the world gradually. Elderly people went from being a beloved source of wisdom to being an age group many people don’t know what to do with. When people in our society reach a certain age, too many of them face rejection, dismissal, and contempt.

The ideal today centers around youth as the source of all well-being. Although this is false, many take it as true and act accordingly. Physical strength is now, more or less, a fetish. An older person does not fit into this equation and their vulnerability is not something society wants to deal with. 

“The first forty years of life give us the text; the next thirty supply the commentary on it.”

-Arthur Schopenhauer-

The most fragile people in our world are often pushed to the side. It’s the case with children, the elderly, and the sick, among others. Young adults — healthy, strong, and full of potential — are always expecting someone else to care for the vulnerable. Whether we’re talking about their own children, or their parents or relatives, it seems like the healthy and young have no time for these more vulnerable groups.

Well, that’s exactly why we want to dedicate this article to the elderly, because you deserve respect. You deserve more than these five areas of respect, but we’ll start from here.

Don’t try to change an older person

In general, trying to change someone shows a lack of respect. How do you know you’re right and they’re wrong? Only those who believe themselves to be better than others try to change people. Besides, the concept of “better” or “worse” is extremely relative and very dangerous.

A woman and her elderly mother.

Regardless of who we’re talking about, an elderly person has already played many roles in their life. They’ve come up with their own criteria about how they should be, whether they’re the “right” criteria or not. They’ve developed their own habits, tastes, and customs.

No one has the right to try to convince them that they should think or act otherwise. In fact, no matter how hard you try, you probably will not change their mind. By accepting them, things will go much better for you both.

Do not argue with them

Maybe your father or grandfather is convinced of something that seems absurd to you. Their religious or political beliefs may be very different from yours. Elderly people, in good faith, sometimes want to try to convince you that they are right.  

Don’t forget that an older person has a lot of baggage, but that’s not necessarily negative. After all, if you think the way you do, it’s not because of chance. It’s because of your experiences and the knowledge you’ve acquired. It’s not a good idea to engage in futile arguments to get them to understand your point of view. Lend them an affectionate, respectful ear: they’ve earned it.

Support them in their interests and hobbies

Many times, older people are shy or fearful about their own interests or hobbies. In today’s world, their word isn’t taken seriously unless they occupy positions of power. Many have important messages to communicate.

An older couple.

It could be reading, gardening, or even sports. Whatever it is, it would be nice to show an interest in it. And if you know how to do the hobby, join them in it. In the twilight of life, having a hobby can be a big help.

Accept their physical and cognitive limitations without criticism

They say there’s a test we should all do. Plug your ears with cotton balls, put petroleum jelly over your eyes, and tie two bricks to your legs. Then, try to live like this for an hour. This will demonstrate to us how it feels to be further along in years. Maybe we’ll also learn to be more tolerant of the limitations of elderly people may have.

If you walk with an older person, walk at their pace and don’t ask for more than they can give. If they don’t hear when you speak, try to speak more loudly and clearly instead of berating them for not paying attention. Listen to their health complaints without being condescending and treat them as you would like to be treated at their age.

Let their obsessions go

Some older people can be quite capricious and stubborn. They may even be mischievous or challenging. Actually, some even start behaving like children again. And in the midst of this second childhood, some develop difficult behaviors.

Remember, there’s a reason for how an older person acts. They are going through very big changes and have to face the idea that the end is coming. Their obstinacy and whims are them compensating for feeling vulnerable or afraid. So don’t give these behaviors more importance than they deserve.

An older woman smiling.

Parents and grandparents are a source of wisdom, even if they have a few idiosyncrasies. Listening to them and spending time with them can nourish your heart in a surprising way. Embracing their vulnerability makes you a better person and gives your life more meaning.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.