How to Respect Older People

Three Methods:Interacting with Older PeopleTaking Special Care of Older Family and FriendsUtilizing Their Experience

Sometimes it can be difficult to relate to the generations that have come before us. Growing up in different circumstances can make us feel as if we have nothing in common with them. But older people have plenty of wisdom and knowledge to share with younger generations, and treating them with respect should be second nature for all of us.

Method 1
Interacting with Older People

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    Call people sir or ma'am. Even if you’ve grown up in a more casual environment where you usually call your friends’ parents by their first names, you shouldn’t assume that all older people are comfortable with that kind of informal title. Some elderly people may be more traditional, and prefer that you call them Mr./Mrs. So-and-So. That’s why it’s always best to ask what name they prefer and use sir or ma'am when you don't feel comfortable asking.[1]
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    Offer your help. People can often lose strength, balance, and agility as they age, which can make some everyday activities that we take for granted more difficult. Providing even the smallest assistance may help make their day a little easier, and demonstrate your respect in a courteous, thoughtful manner.[2]
    • It’s always polite to hold the door open for the people behind you, but it can be especially helpful for older people with canes or walkers.
    • When you’re on public transportation, such as the subway, train, or bus, consider offering your seat to an elderly person, who might need to rest more than you.
    • If you’re at the store, offer to reach for items on shelves that might be too high or low for an older person to reach. You might also offer to carry an elderly person’s bags to the car or unload their cart into the trunk.
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    Be patient. Older people usually don’t move as quickly as they used to when they were younger, which means it can take them longer to do even the simplest of tasks, such as crossing the street. Be respectful by showing some patience when you encounter them instead of trying to hurry them along.[3]
    • If an elderly person is slow to get off the bus, subway, or elevator, or just walking down the street, don’t push past them. Let them take their time, so they are comfortable and don’t injure themselves.
    • Don’t huff and puff if an older person on line in front of you at a store takes a little longer to pay for their items. Instead, try to be understanding -- you might even offer to help by lifting items out of the cart or bagging groceries.
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    Don’t assume they have disabilities. While it’s true that many elderly people have health issues that may require special assistance, aging doesn’t affect all people in the same way. Assuming that an older person has poor eyesight or hearing can be extremely condescending and make him or her feel self-conscious. That’s especially true if you make a big deal out of it, such as raising your voice every time you speak to him or her.[4]
    • If you’re unsure whether an older person has a vision or hearing issue, just ask. It’s better to be straightforward than to risk offending someone.

Method 2
Taking Special Care of Older Family and Friends

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    Visit them. Older people can often feel isolated because they usually aren’t working any longer and it’s not always easy for them to go out. That’s especially true for elderly people who live in a nursing or retirement home. Take time out of your schedule to visit with the older people in your life as often as you can, so they know that they’re still important to you.[5]
    • If you’re very busy and can’t make it to see the older people in your life as often as you’d like, calling them can be a good alternative. You might even set up a time to call each week, so you have a schedule to stick to.
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    Show interest in their lives. It’s easy to think that older people don’t have much going on because they don’t do many of the things that they used to when they were younger. However, many elderly people are still active, and lead full, busy lives, even if that just means playing bingo, waking in the park, and gardening. When you visit or call the older people in your life, make sure to ask about their favorite activities.[6]
    • If your grandparent, aunt, uncle, or other elderly loved one has a hobby that they particularly enjoy, you might even offer to do it with them. That’s a great way to show them just how interested you are in what’s important to them.
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    Don’t try to take control of their lives. While it’s true that your elderly loved ones may need help with some details of their lives, such as chores around the house or making sense of tax forms, they probably aren’t completely helpless. You should offer your assistance, but it’s important to respect them enough to let them make their own decisions as long as they’re able to. [7]

Method 3
Utilizing Their Experience

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    Value their opinions. You shouldn’t be so quick to assume that older people are out of touch with what’s going on in the world. In fact, because of their experience, they might have a different perspective that helps you think about an issue or topic in a new way.[8]
    • If your opinion differs from an older person’s, try not to argue over it. Instead, have a polite conversation where you’re both able to express your points of view, so you can really listen to each other.
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    Ask for advice. Because of their experience, older people can offer up a wealth of valuable insights, so it only makes sense to use them as a resource. Whether you’re having trouble in school, fighting with your significant other, or unsure what to do with your career, talk to the older people in your life to see if they’ve encountered a similar situation and can provide guidance.[9]
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    Learn about their traditions. Cultural customs, practices and stories are usually passed down generation to generation, so the older people in your family probably have insight into your ancestors that you can’t get anywhere else. Ask them to share what they know about your family’s traditions, so you can learn more about them -- and where you come from.[10]
    • Making an family tree can be a fun activity to do with an older relative. There are a variety of websites, such as, that can make researching your family easier, so your elderly relatives don’t need to remember all the details.


  • Even a small act of kindness, such as smiling at or saying good morning to someone you pass on the street, can mean a lot of an older person. Be on the lookout for opportunities to connect with the elderly people around you.
  • Don’t talk down to older people because you assume they won’t be able to understand. If you have to explain something to them, such as new technology, use clear, simple language, but don't patronize them.
  • Sometimes, a direct approach is the best way to show the older people in your life how you feel. Tell them that you respect and admire them, so they understand that they are valued.


  • Be compassionate if your attempts to engage an elderly person are met with gruffness, anger, or annoyance. They may use a gruff exterior as a coping mechanism after years of intolerance, pain, and frustration at society. Continue to be polite and understanding.

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Categories: Etiquette | Social Interactions