Knowing how to communicate effectively with older adults is important, especially if you’re working with them or visiting them as family members or friends in aged care facilities. Here are 6 tips for establishing successful communication and relationships with the older people in your life.
1. Respect is always key to communication.
Commands are often a primary mode of communication between adults and younger people, as well as a way of giving instructions. The ability to make decisions is important to all adults, so ensure you respect the older person’s right to autonomy by rephrasing your statements into requests.
E.g. Instead of saying ‘we’re going for a walk now’, ask ‘would you like to go for a walk now?’
2. Modify the environment as needed.
You may often find that changing the environment to enhance your communication with the older person would work much better than having to strain your voice to speak louder to him or her. Turn noisy air-conditioners off, lower the volume on the TV or radio, or move to a quieter room or area if necessary.
3. Speak clearly and slowly.
While it would help to speak a little louder if the older adult has difficulties with hearing, it might be more effective to speak clearly and slow your speech down when speaking to him or her. Communicate more concisely by using shorter sentences as well.
4. Make decision making easier.
Instead of giving open-ended choices that may potentially confuse or frustrate the older person, optimise his or her ability to make decisions by offering a couple of choices.
E.g. ‘Would you like pasta or rice for dinner?’ instead of ‘what would you like for dinner?’
5. Give them a chance to remember.
Older adults would have gone through many experiences that are significant or meaningful to them, so let them talk about their memories with you. If they have issues with memory and recall, ask the facility if they have memory books available to assist the older person in remembering faces and places. You could also bring in your own photos of important people, places, and things to help the older person remember.
6. Be aware of the ‘rules’ of conversation.
Begin a conversation with a casual subject (e.g. the weather) rather than something more serious, take turns in the conversation by actively listening and responding to the other person before sharing your thoughts, and try not to jump from topic to topic. Give the older adult time to respond. You would often find that conversation would also be easier and more interesting if you discuss topics that are relevant and important for the older person.