In relationships, communication is key, allowing us to connect with each other’s feelings, thoughts and needs. It is a two-way street and includes the ability to express oneself and the ability to understand what another person is trying to convey. Good communication helps to establish trust. As family members and professionals providing home care for seniors, we know that it is often difficult to communicate with the elderly. Sensory losses (vision, hearing), as well as other age-related health problems, can create a barrier to effective communication as will chronic, progressive conditions, such as dementia.
When caring for seniors becomes challenging, it is important to remember that he/she was once a vibrant, active person and that the communication difficulties they have today were not always there. This is especially important when an older person finds him or herself unable to express their thoughts and needs, or unable to hear or understand what others are talking about. Not being able to get a thought across, or feeling shut out of conversation can be frustrating and painful for them. It can also make them angry.
Whatever the cause, communication problems can lead older people to withdraw and become isolated, which typically will result in further loss of communication ability. However, techniques to help communication that will make caring for seniors better for everyone.
The American Geriatrics Society Foundation for Health in Aging operates a website, Healthinaging.org that provides health information for older adults and those providing in-home health care for the elderly. In an article on communication, a number of techniques are presented that can be used to help facilitate communication with older adults. These include:
- Communicate during periods of greatest alertness
- Make sure to have the senior’s attention before talking.
- Talk face-to-face and maintain eye contact.
- Talk in a quiet, well-lit area.
- Eliminate background noise. Turn off the TV and radio.
- Use writing, pictures, and gestures to supplement spoken language.
- Speak slowly and clearly.
- Consider the emotional aspects of conversation. Often the relationship is more important than the details. It may be better to have an enjoyable conversation than one that is factually correct.
- In general, don’t interrupt.
- Avoid asking for multiple repetitions. Instead, ask specific questions. (“Are we talking about dinner?”)
- Ask for another phrasing. (“Tell me in a different way.”)
- Ask follow-up questions; (“Did you say you wanted to go for a walk?”)
- Avoid overly complex sentences with open-ended questions.
- Be patient. Brain processes can slow as a result of aging or disease and it may be that the senior needs more time to process the question and formulate an answer.
- Keep talking. The interaction itself is often more meaningful than the substance of the conversation.
To read the full article go to Eldercare at Home: Communication Problems