Strategies for Effective Communication with Seniors
by Dedra Jize, OT, CSA
Geriatric Care Manager, Litherland, Kennedy & Associates, APC, Attorneys at Law
As we age, our senses change and become less acute. Hearing decreases, with one out of every three seniors over the age of 60 experiencing significant hearing loss. In addition, seniors experience changes to vision as the lens may become yellow or opaque. The most common vision problem is Presbyopia (farsightedness), but seniors also may have macular deterioration, ‘floaters’ in the eyes, and the pupils may take longer to dilate. Because of these and other changes in the senses, seniors may have difficulty with communication, but there are strategies to help.
Don’t shout. Hearing loss is usually not the reason seniors don’t respond to you. Yelling may only confuse them more and increase anxiety for everyone.
Lower your tone. As our ears age, Prebycusis becomes very common. The tiny hairs in the ears lose their ability to move with ease, making high pitches inaudible. Speaking with a low tone will help the senior to hear more of the words spoken.
Talk face to face. We all multitask, but looking at our cell phone or working on something else while having a conversation with a senior can add to their confusion or misunderstanding. There are many non-verbal cues the senior can pick up on to help them complete the message being communicated, so give them your undivided attention.
Pronounce your words. Many of us have developed bad habits with our pronunciation and we slur our words together, or talk fast, which may make the senior feel you are hurried. Slow down your speech and pronounce each word individually.
Eliminate extra noise. Many of us have experienced trying to have a discussion out on a busy street (which is difficult on its own), and then an emergency vehicle comes by with a siren on making communication impossible. For a senior, it may be the noise coming from the hallway, or an intercom announcement, that can be just as distracting. Try to make the environment as quiet as possible by closing doors, turning off TV’s and radios, or even moving to a quieter location.
Select different words to rephrase your message. Be creative with your words when the senior doesn’t understand. Repeating the same phrase over and over may not be helpful. Try a new approach and consider changing: “Mom, I’ll see you this weekend to visit in the afternoon if that is okay with you,” to: “Mom, I will be back Saturday after lunch.” There are fewer words for the senior to sift through and a different/simpler word choice. This technique may help the senior to more easily understand.
The goal is to keep communication open and understandable between everyone despite changes as we age. If there is too much difficulty or decreased understanding, then communication is reduced, visits diminish because they aren’t as enjoyable, and eventually the senior’s quality of life declines. Use these techniques to help you and those you are talking with to achieve accurate communication and a positive personal connection.
This information is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
ABOUT THE Litherland, Kennedy & Associates, APC, Attorneys at Law
Roy W. Litherland is an attorney whose practice emphasizes elder law and estate planning. Roy has practiced law in the greater Bay Area for the last 37 years and is certified as a legal specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. In addition to his extensive legal background, Roy was also previously licensed as a Certified Public Accountant. Although Roy has an extensive background in accounting, he retired his license to practice as a CPA to devote his time and energy entirely to the practice of law, specializing in estate planning, trusts, Medi-Cal planning, and probate. Roy is a noted speaker on living trusts, Medi-Cal Planning, and estate planning. He is a member and designated Fellow of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, an organization that fosters excellence in estate planning.
Dedra Jize joined the Litherland, Kennedy & Associates, APC, Attorneys at Law in February 2013. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy from San Jose State University and is a Certified Senior Advisor and Geriatric Care Manager. Dedra has worked as a Caregiver Support Coordinator and Activity Assistant for the Alzheimer’s Activity Center in San Jose, as a Foster Care Provider with Advent Group Ministries, and as an Occupational Therapist at Good Samaritan Hospital. Dedra works closely with our Director of Geriatric Care Management, Lois G. Tager, M. Ed., CSA, to help our senior clients and their families with Medicare issues, and Medi-Cal applications and representations. Dedra and Lois provide psycho-social assessments of health care needs, develop individualized plans for care, evaluate the specific needs of clients, and make recommendations when applicable for home care services, independent living communities, assisted living facilities, and nursing facilities. Their goal in working with clients is to enhance the quality of life of the older adult as well as their families.
The Litherland, Kennedy & Associates, APC, Attorneys at Law is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.