When working with older adults, age-related health problems can present a barrier to effective communication. Chronic conditions, such as dementia and hearing loss, as well as the effects of medication can complicate conversations and understanding for the resident. During periods of diminished lucidity, interactions can create a frustrating and seemingly helpless experience. However, there are techniques you can use to communicate with older adults to help facilitate better interaction and create a communication-friendly environment.
1. Know your patient.
Always be patient and attentive with the patients for whom you are caring. It is your job to help them. That is why they are here and that is why you are here.
2. Be aware of the person’s health issues.
Older adults may have health problems that add difficulty to speaking and understanding. Be sure you consider the person’s health before you engage in communication. For example, they may have hearing problems, speech problems, and memory loss. These factors complicate communication. And remember, chronological age is not always a true indicator of a person’s ability to communicate.
3. Be aware of the environment in which you communicate with older adults.
Be sure to evaluate the environment in which you are communicating, which might have an effect on hearing and speech problems. Is there any loud or disturbing background noise? Are too many people speaking in the same room? Is there any loud music? Are there any distractions that could affect your communication? Ask the older adult if the environment is comfortable for them. If you sense any disturbance, try to move to a more peaceful and quiet location.
4. Speak slowly, clearly and articulately, and make good eye contact.
It is important to articulate your words and speak clearly. Direct your speech at the individual’s face – not to their back or side. If the patient is sitting down or lying in a bed come down to their level. Move your mouth and pronounce each word carefully and precisely. When your tongue “moves” inside your mouth, you articulate more clearly. If your tongue does not move, you are most likely not articulating as well as you could.
5. Adjust the volume of your voice appropriately.
Learn to adapt your voice to the needs of the individual. Evaluate the environment and how it relates to the person’s hearing abilities. Don’t shout simply because the listener is older. Treat the individual with respect by articulating and speaking at a comfortable volume that is suitable for both of you.
6. Use clear and precise questions and sentences.
Do not hesitate to repeat or rephrase your sentences and questions if you sense the patient is not understanding. Complicated/long questions and sentences may confuse older adults who have short-term memory or hearing loss. Be short, clear, and precise. It is easier to comprehend.
7. Use direct questions.
“Did you have soup for lunch?” or “Did you have salad for lunch?” Instead of: “What did you have for lunch?” The more precise you are in your language, the less difficulty the elderly have in understanding.
8. Limit your sentences and questions to as little words as possible.
Don’t use slang or filler words and phrases (“Like,” “well,” and “you know” are a few examples.) Keep your sentences brief and direct to the point.
9. Use visual aids, if possible.
If an older adult has a hearing or memory problem, it is important to be creative. Visual aids help. Show the individual what or who you are talking about by pointing. For example, it may be better to say, “Is there any pain in your back (pointing to your back)? Is there any pain in your stomach (pointing to your stomach)?” instead of simply asking “Do you have any pain or discomfort?”
10. Take it slow, be patient, and smile.
A sincere smile shows that you are understanding. It also creates a friendly environment in which to communicate. Remember to pause between sentences and questions. Give the individual an opportunity to understand the information and questions. This is a particularly valuable technique if a person has memory loss. When you pause, you show respect and patience.
11. Always be patient and attentive with the residents you are caring for.
It is your job to help them. That is why they are here and that is why you are here.