Communicating with older people often requires extra time and patience because of physical, psychological, and social changes of normal aging.
Even more effort is needed in nursing homes where 60% to 90% of residents may actually have communication disabilities.
Speech-language pathologists Martin Shulman and Ellen Mandel offer these tips for family members and caregivers to make communicating with older people easier:
- Reduce background noises that may be distracting (e.g., turn off the radio or TV, close the door, or move to a quieter place)
- Begin the conversation with casual topics (e.g., the weather or what the person had for lunch). Avoid crucial messages at the beginning.
- Talk about familiar subjects such as family members and special interests of the person
- Stick to a topic. Avoid quick shifts from topic to topic.
- Keep sentences and questions short.
- Give older persons a moment to reminisce. Their memories are important to them.
- Allow extra time for responding. Don’t hurry them.
- Give the older person choices to ease decision making. (e.g., “Do you want tea or coffee?” rather than “What do you want to drink?”)
- Be an active listener. Look for hints from eye gaze and gestures. Take a guess (e.g., “Are you talking about the TV news? Yes? Tell me more. I didn’t see it.”)
After your visit, tell others who visit (relatives, physicians, nurses, aides, etc.) what you’ve learned to improve communicating with the older person.
If you have concerns about a loved one’s ability to communicate, visit ASHA’s Find a Professional for help.