Some links and readings posted by Gary B. Rollman, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, University of Western Ontario
Saturday, April 27, 2013
Ask Well: Coaxing Parents to Take Better Care of Themselves - NYTimes.com
How can I coax my parents to take better care of themselves?
My parents are in their mid-60s and don't eat well or exercise. They are poorly informed about good nutrition and the benefits of moderate exercise, or even what constitutes moderate exercise. Is there a book that gives accurate, commonsense information without the patronizing tone that I would almost inevitably use? I'm trying to be patient, but it's hard to deal with aging parents who aren't taking care of themselves.
Reader Question • 349 votes
Your dilemma of wanting to get your parents to change their ways to eat better and exercise reminds me of an old joke:
How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.
Sounds like your parents may be about as motivated as the light bulb right now. Still, there are things you can do to encourage them to move in a healthier direction. But the first step should not be to hand them a book. Unless you lay some prior groundwork, that gesture may seem almost as patronizing as an impatient tone of voice – and probably as likely to backfire.
Instead, start a conversation in a caring, nonjudgmental way. Ask, don't tell. "Say, 'You know, I might not know what I am talking about, but I am really concerned about you," suggested Kevin Leman, a psychologist in Tucson, Ariz., and author of 42 books on changing behavior in families and relationships. Ask simply if there is anything you can do to help.
Leading by example is also more effective than lecturing. "The son can role-model health by inviting his parents to dinner and serving healthful items that he is fairly certain they will find acceptable, or ask them if they are interested in going out dancing with him and his wife," suggested Ann Constance, director of the Upper Peninsula Diabetes Outreach Network in Michigan.
Pleasure is a better motivator for change than pain or threats. Use the grandchildren as bait. Ask if they want to take the grandchildren to the zoo or a park that would require a good bit of walking around for everyone. Or the grandchildren could ask them to come along on one of those 2K fund-raiser-walks that many schools hold. After all, a day with the grandchildren is always a pleasure in itself. (O.K., usually a pleasure.)
Tempted to give them the gift of a health club membership? "Save your money," Dr. Leman said. Try a more indirect (and cheaper) approach. Create a mixed-tape of up-tempo music from their era. ("Songs they listened to from the ages of 12-to-17, which is what we all listen to for the rest of our lives," said Dr. Leman) They will enjoy it any time — maybe even while walking.
If you really want someone you love to make a change, the key is to ask them to do something small and easy first because that increases the chances they will do something larger later. Psychologists call that "the foot in the door technique," said Adam Davey, associate professor of public health at Temple University in Philadelphia, referring to a classic 1966 experiment called "Compliance Without Pressure." In the study, which has been duplicated by others in many forms, researchers asked people to sign a petition or place a small card in a window in their home or car about keeping California beautiful or supporting safe driving. About two weeks later, the same people were asked to put a huge sign that practically covered their entire front lawn advocating the same cause.
"A surprisingly large number of those who agreed to the small sign agreed to the billboard," because agreeing to the first small task built a bond between asker and askee "that increases the likelihood of complying with a subsequent larger request," Dr. Davey explained.
Any plan for behavioral change is most likely to succeed if it is very specific, measurable and achievable, according to Ms.Constance.
And the new behavior should also be integrated into daily life — and repeated until it becomes a habit. For example, if you want to walk more, start with a 10-minute walk after dinner on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Ms. Constance suggested. The next week, bump it up to 12 minutes.
Don't give up, even if you meet initial resistance — it is never too late for your parents or you or any of us to change. "Taking up an exercise program into one's 80s and 90s to build strength and flexibility can result in very tangible and enduring benefits in a surprisingly short time," insisted Dr Davey.