Elderly Person’s Perception of Control

An elderly person's perception of control is an important issue

How often have you tried to get an elderly person to become more active and engaged in life? Instead of cooperation, you get nowhere. An elderly person’s perception of control is often the culprit.

There can be a variety of reasons for a senior to avoid activity, including chronic disease, depression, and embarrassment. However, another reason may be the elderly person’s need to maintain control over her environment and actions.

Most humans want to feel in control of their lives. Unfortunately, the aging process often includes a decrease in skills, stamina, and cognitive abilities. This can unsettle a senior and be difficult to address. So when you approach and encourage her to be active, she may perceive it as confrontational and demanding.

Tips for addressing an elderly person’s perception of control in helping her to remain active.

  • We are often in a hurry because of our everyday responsibilities, so want to broach the subject with an elderly parent quickly. This is a mistake because a directive tone of voice and a hurried attitude will be self-defeating. Instead, bring up the subject in a friendly, casual manner and then repeat the message over an extended time span.
  • Don’t talk “at” the senior but be inclusive in the conversation. Express your interest in seeing her become more active and then seek feedback from her about the issue. Find out why she is choosing to be sedentary and then collaborate in identifying solutions. If there are health issues involved, arrange a physician’s visit. If it is an issue of embarrassment over physical and mental deficiencies, identify activities or exercises that match the seniors interests and capabilities.
  • Acknowledge your elderly parent’s or friend’s feelings. Downplaying her feelings because it may complicate your needs will not work. Let her know it is her decision to make, but reinforce your interest in her welfare. You can even let her know you plan to continue trying to persuade her to change her mind. However, voice this compassionately as opposed to competitive (you WILL change your mind eventually attitude).
  • Do not expect the senior to become more active and exercise on her own. Try to make the time to take part with her in the chosen activity or exercise. If you can’t be there, solicit the help of a friend or hire a caregiver to take part. There are also many community organizations that offer group activities and exercises which she can join.


Try not to become frustrated if your elderly parent or friend is resistant to your efforts to get her to be more active. The senior can pick up on your feelings which will probably lead to more resistance. Play the long game by bringing up the issue conversationally over a longer period. You can also casually drop off materials that address the importance of remaining active and the problems created by becoming sedentary. She may not read them right away, but over time, she may.

A significant source for productive ways to communicate with elderly people comes from the book How to Say It to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders, authored by David Solie. Another great source is Communicating with Older Adults: An Evidence-based Review of What Really Works by The Gerontological Society of America.

Check out the new ebook Keep Elderly People Active that empowers adult children of elderly parents and others with the ammunition to help older loved ones remain active and healthy.

Learn more about the benefits of activity and exercise for elderly people by reading this previous blog post.

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