Communicating with the elderly can often be challenging. Senior citizens may have multiple physical or mental ailments, differences in ideals and viewpoints or other issues that may make it difficult to communicate. They may be faced with psychological issues such as dementia that make it hard for them to care for themselves. Learning to communicate effectively with the elderly can have numerous rewards, including their memories of long ago times that you may then keep with you.
Sit Face to Face
Sitting face to face with an elderly person can help to facilitate communication, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Many older people have visual or hearing loss and may rely upon lip-reading or facial cues to understand what you are saying. Sitting face to face also helps to eliminate visual distractions, and will give them the feeling that you think they are important. Turn off your cell phone or pager to avoid interruptions. Try to maintain eye contact, as this is a powerful form of nonverbal communication that tells the other person that you are engaged and interested in the conversation.
Generational gaps can create differences in opinion, views and general outlooks on life. An attitude of respect and tolerance for differing beliefs can help you to better handle communications with the elderly. Cultural differences can play an important role. According to Kyu-taik Sung and Bum Jung Kim in their book "Respect for the Elderly," different cultures have varying beliefs as to how their elders should be treated. Awareness of these differences can help you to avoid misunderstandings or accidental insults. Have respect for the autonomy of the elderly person--don't try to do things for them that they can still do for themselves. Allow seniors to maintain their dignity, while still being helpful if needed or asked.
Clear communication skills are vital when communicating with the elderly. Speak clearly using an appropriate volume and rate of speech, so that the other person can understand you. Truly listen to the person you are speaking with. Good communication with the elderly depends on good listening, according to the AAFP. Stick to one topic at a time to avoid confusion, and try not to get irritated or frustrated if you have to repeat something several times. Try to maintain a calm and empathic attitude.
- AAFP: Improving Communication
- "Respect for the Elderly;" Kyu-taik Sung, Bum Jung Kim; 2009