Tips to Communicate Effectively With Your Older Loved One

Young positive lady showing photos on smartphone to senior man while sitting at laptop

Conversation starters and more.

Good communication skills are the key to maintaining a strong relationship with your loved one. Sometimes there can be certain challenges that come with aging that make it feel difficult for caregivers to connect. This can be attributed to various factors affecting this age group, including:

  • Hearing loss: As individuals advance in age, their hearing capacity often declines, resulting in difficulty recognizing when someone is addressing them. Additionally, senior living communities may have some background noise, making it hard to comprehend words clearly on both sides of the conversation. Consequently, many seniors opt for hearing aids to remedy this issue.
  • Effects of medications: Certain medications can hinder communication by inducing confusion, fatigue, or a ringing sensation in the ear (known as tinnitus).
  • Cognitive impairments: Some seniors face challenges expressing themselves due to neurological conditions such as brain lesions, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, or strokes. Unfortunately, the neurological damage is permanent in many cases, rendering communication more arduous.

These aspects can diminish their ability to concentrate and render conversations more challenging. Fortunately, sharing meaningful moments with your aging family member is still possible using a few effective techniques.

Using appropriate conversation initiators can make engaging in discussions during meals or while waiting for medical appointments more effortless. Here, we present some valuable communication tips that will assist you and your entire family foster enriching dialogues.

1. Exercise Patience and Compassion

Your conversation with a senior loved one may happen at a different pace than what you’re used to or are comfortable with. Physical health issues, mental health issues, slow movement, forgetfulness, neediness, and apathy are just some of the behaviors you might encounter. Sometimes it’s easy to lose patience, become frustrated, or even be tempted to give up and walk away.

During these moments, it’s beneficial to put yourself in your loved one’s shoes. Having empathy for the older adult is an effective way to generate more patience and compassion. Allow for moments of silence while they figure out what they want to say—don’t rush them.

2. Use “I” and “We” Instead of “You” Language

Older adults generally don’t respond well when their decision-making has been taken away, or they feel like they’re being bossed around; in other words, using “you” statements.

For example, put yourself in their shoes if someone says, “You have to go to bed early.” You may feel like you’re being ordered to do something against your will. Another example is if someone says, “You always forget to schedule your doctor’s appointments,” you may feel attacked or like you’re being unfairly labeled.

If you mostly use “you” statements when speaking with a senior, they may respond by becoming defensive or withdrawing. To maintain a healthy relationship while conveying the same message, try to change “you” statements to statements that begin with “I,” “Me,” “It,” “We,” “Let’s,” and “This.” For example:

  • Can we get some fresh air in the room?
  • Let’s finish your soup, okay?
  • I will help you exercise today.
  • Let me help you schedule your appointments.
  • It’s important to me that you take your medicine.
  • This doctor’s appointment is very important.

These types of statements emphasize a team effort, in turn compelling older people to be more open to what you have to say.

3. Avoid “Talking Down”

While it can be helpful to slow down your speech, talk in a deeper tone, or increase your volume if your loved one has trouble hearing or processing language, there’s a fine line between speaking clearly and speaking like you’re talking to a child. Be careful not to patronize them or “talk down.”

Eye contact and face-to-face communication are essential. If your loved one is in a wheelchair, you should also sit down so that you’re both on the same level. When you tower over someone in a wheelchair, they may feel looked down upon or invisible. Sit next to them and maintain eye contact while you speak.

4. Listen Attentively

Active listening is the most crucial aspect of effective communication with an aging adult. While remembering that you’re not the only person struggling to communicate, use non-verbal cues and visual aids like smiling, nodding, or hand gestures to let them know you understand what they are trying to say.

Keep the conversation on one topic at a time, and avoid asking multiple questions in a row, as it can confuse older patients. Don’t plan your response or follow-up questions as your loved one speaks. Listen to their words but also pay attention to their tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language to understand what they mean.

It can also be helpful to check in with them occasionally during the conversation. Some seniors can have difficulty following what you’re saying, so you can check their comprehension by pausing and asking for their input.

5. Ask Open-Ended Questions

Asking your loved one questions is one of the most valuable ways to connect with them. Rather than asking questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” try to keep them open-ended because they require a more detailed answer. Try the phrase “tell me about ...” and ask anything you want.

Here are a few other conversations topics to help you get started:

  • Where was your favorite place you traveled to?
  • What is your proudest accomplishment?
  • What was your first job?
  • What advice do you have for younger people?
  • Tell me more about your childhood best friend.
  • What was the best thing your mom made that you loved to eat?
  • Where was your favorite place to meet friends in town?
  • What was your favorite vacation you took when you were a kid?
  • What was your favorite subject in school and why?
  • Tell me about your favorite teacher.
  • What’s the hardest life lesson you learned?
  • What’s the secret to a happy and healthy life?
  • What do you remember about your grandmother?
  • What do you remember about this photo?
  • Did you have any nicknames growing up?
  • What were your hobbies as a child?

Let Us Help You!

At St. Andrew’s retirement communities, you and your loved ones can check off worrying at the door. Whatever type of care is needed or wanted, we have excellent services and amenities to enhance your quality of life.

Our uniquely caring staff members are experts in nurturing body, mind, and spirit. That means you can leave the worry to us. Every St. Andrew’s team member exemplifies our mantra: “How can I help? I have time.”

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