7 Techniques for Better Communication with Seniors


Caregiving can cause major changes in a family. Physical, emotional, social and financial issues can arise, affecting the roles, responsibilities and feelings of each family member. Such widespread change to the family dynamic can lead to increased tension and frequent disagreements.

The constant friction can be frustrating, but learning what goes into healthy, two-way communication can help family members understand and interact with one another more effectively. The following tips may not help or apply in every situation, but using them will ensure that you are doing all you can to engage in a productive manner.

Don’t Give Advice Unless It’s Asked For

Parents have guided and advised their children their whole lives, so hearing advice from a child–even an adult child—might not go over so well. This scenario highlights the parent-child role reversal that often occurs in caregiving, and it can be hard for the parent to accept. Therefore, giving advice is best avoided unless you are sure it has been requested. It is generally better to let a neutral outside party be the advisor. You can provide encouragement and support, without doling out advice.

Listen to What Your Elderly Parent Is Saying

Really listen to what your elder is saying. Don’t interrupt them or feel the urge to fill periods of silence that often occur during conversations. A brief pause could mean your family member is contemplating a response and thinking through the conversation and how to reply. Listening does go both ways, though, so try to determine that the person is hearing what you say, too.

Accept Differences of Opinion

No matter how tightknit a family is, everyone is not going to agree all of the time. Respect others’ opinions the same way you would like yours to be, and don’t disregard those who disagree with you. Listen to all sides, and try to compromise when a decision must be made.

Speak Distinctly

Some older adults do not like to admit that they are hard of hearing or have trouble understanding the conversation around them. Remain calm and talk in a gentle, matter-of-fact way. Speak louder, if necessary, but do not shout. Make sure to enunciate clearly and avoid mumbling and talking too quickly. Focus on one idea at a time, and keep sentences short and simple. If your loved one still isn’t grasping what you are saying, try phrasing it differently and using different words.

Don’t Be Condescending

Make sure your attempt to “turn up the volume” and slow down your speech pattern doesn’t come across as condescending. Even if your parent suffers from dementia or extreme hearing loss, don’t speak to them as if they are a child. Being patronizing is a surefire way to start an argument.

Choose the Right Environment

Avoid having in-depth or important conversations in settings where there is lots of competing noise or distracting activities. Turn the TV or radio off, or at least lower the volume. Face the person as you talk to them so that they can pick up on your facial expressions and read your lips, if necessary. When talking in a group, make sure that the elder is not on the end of the table or the outskirts of a seating arrangement. It is better to place them in the middle so that the conversation is happening around them.

Consider What It Is Like To Be Older

Most seniors experience a series of losses as they get older and strive to stay in control of themselves and their environment. Even if communicating with a loved one is frustrating and complicated, do your best to keep them involved in conversations and decisions they are able to participate in. Be mindful that your efforts to help can make them feel like they’re giving away control of things.

Pick Your Battles

Many seniors face growing challenges as they age, including mobility limitations, decreased stamina, loneliness and memory problems. While your goal is to ensure their wellbeing, tackling every single issue at once can be frustrating and embarrassing for an elder. Instead, try to prioritize the issues you want to address and celebrate small victories one at a time.

Laugh When You Can

Laughter really is the best medicine. Humorous moments often arise, even in the most difficult and stressful caregiving situations. Be open to the opportunity to lighten things up and take things a little less seriously. A shared laugh can ease tension and build closeness with your loved ones. However, be sure to laugh with your family members and not at their expense.

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Communicating with people whose minds are no longer as sharp as they once were is a huge challenge for even the most patient person. When my husband and I started noticing concerning behaviors in his parents, we didn't say anything because our opinions were not being solicited. So we just watched while his parents made bad choices. Not surprisingly their poor choices had serious consequences including landing in the ER. These bad consequences just made them both more depressed and anxious. So they continued to pretend that life could go on just as it always had. And they made us so miserable that we started to spend less time with them. I don't believe anything good comes from humoring our elders and not being honest with them. I should mention that neither of my in-laws is demented or anything like that.
you have to talk about whats on their mind as they cant hold a thought for long .
sometimes i sit outside NH with my aunt and we dont even need words . she comments on the pretty flowers , rabbits and squirrels and i puff on my tobacco pipe . my aunt lost her hearing aid and is nearly deaf . if im going to freshen up her tea glass i wield the glass in my hand and emphasize FRESH ICE .. key words , body language ..
our first visit to doc resulted in nurses giving me some orders for tests . i bent down and explained to edna that doc wanted to ct her lungs again after the pneumonia . it keeps her not only in the loop but very content and in control .
do not take control from the elder . you will have a battle on your hands tha you cant win . they are 90 years street smart , treat them as your intellectual superior because they are ..
reagor, how is your Mom's health otherwise? If it is a new symptom for her, it may be good to alert her doctor. If it is not a new symptom and it causes no harm, I agree with your not challenging what she has to say. If you do challenge, her will feel a need to save face which is reasonable. One thing you might consider is asking her whether she would like to do whatever it is she may be talking about having done, or asking her what she enjoyed the most about the experience she has just shared with you. Ask her what she likes about movies, etc., and whether she would enjoy a home movie night, or going out to select a movie rental with you one day. Also ask her if she could go on a day trip, where would she enjoy going. If she opens up, it may help. It's hard for us when we know differently, but challenging seldom solves anything, in my experience only. If she is becoming confused, remind your husband and son that it happens and compassion goes a long way.