If you have an older adult in your life, such as a grandparent or an ageing parent, you should know that how you communicate with them could dictate their health, their feelings of wellness, and their quality of life for years to come. It’s easy to underestimate just how important communication is to older adults, but with the right strategies, you can easily improve this area of elder interaction.
The value of effective communication for older adults
Why is effective communication so important for older adults? Here are some explanations:
- Clearer instructions and education. Communicating effectively with older adults means you’re able to convey clearer instructions to them and educate them more effectively. In some cases, you’ll have to explain to older adults aspects of their health or new routines that they’re going to need to follow. It’s important to be able to explain these thoroughly and effectively.
- Opportunities to express concerns. Communication works both ways, so effective communication also means older adults have more opportunities to express themselves. If they have any concerns or if they’re uncomfortable in any way, they can express this and, hopefully, get results.
- A sense of belonging and comfort. Good communication makes older adults feel good, leading to better overall outcomes. When they can frequently and easily communicate with others, they feel a sense of belonging and are more loved. They have more support, they have more security, and they have a higher quality of life as a result.
- Intellectual stimulation. Conversation also serves a purpose as intellectual stimulation. Talking to more people about more things is a way to keep the mind active, reducing susceptibility to certain types of neurodegenerative conditions.
Strategies for better communication with older adults
So what strategies can you employ to better communicate with older adults?
- Consider hiring professional help. First, consider hiring professional help. Hiring a private care service, such as an assisted living facility, can make sure that a dedicated person is available to take care of your loved one and communicate with them on a regular basis. You should still make an effort to communicate with them, but a private care service can make things significantly easier for you.
- Be aware of specific weaknesses or impairments. Age-related hearing loss affects most people eventually, but some people will have specific struggles that make it more difficult for them to communicate. For example, a person you know may have an easier time hearing out of one ear, or they may suffer from hearing loss in a way that makes it hard for them to talk intelligently. Be aware of these specific weaknesses or impairments so you can compensate for them accordingly.
- Talk about only one topic at a time. For the most part, it’s better to keep your conversations as focused as possible. Talk about only one topic at a time, rather than jumping from one topic to another in a fluid manner. If you change topics too quickly, or if you speak too quickly in general, you might end up losing your audience.
- Speak clearly and simply. It’s important to speak as clearly and simply as possible. Try not to stuff your sentences full of filler words or unnecessary details; instead, say what you want to say concisely and in terms that anyone could understand.
- Use shorter sentences. In line with this, it’s a good idea to use shorter sentences throughout your communication with older adults. They’re going to have a much easier time understanding you if they only have to process one short sentence at a time. Additionally, if they end up confused about something, or if they need to ask about more details, it’s easier to explore the topic sentence by sentence rather than re-explaining everything from the beginning.
- Listen actively. Active listening is an important skill for almost anyone, in any context. But it’s especially important when working with older adults. When your conversational partner is speaking, give them your full attention and show that you’re listening by nodding and providing other forms of positive body language. It’s going to make sure the older adults in your life feel heard and make sure you better understand what they have to say.
- Foster communication with more people. Having more conversational partners is almost always a good thing for older adults. Create situations that allow them to talk to a wider range of people.
- Make use of body language. Not all communication is verbal. Use your body language to better convey your tone and intentions.
These are just some of the ways that you can improve how you communicate with older adults in your life. The more you develop this skill, the better you’ll be able to communicate with your elders and the better health outcomes they’re going to see.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.