Tips for Communicating with Seniors

1. Speak Clearly and Distinctly: Almost 30% of persons older than 65 have some sort of hearing loss so be sure to speak a little louder, a little slower, but not too much of either because then you may come off as condescending. Use a gentle and calm voice and keep sentences short and simple.

2. Be Mindful of your Environment: Watch for background noise from a tv or radio. When in conversation, try to be face to face and at a similar level. This is because peripheral vision is more limited so they may have trouble understanding if that can’t see you. Being at their same level, such as sitting if they are in a wheelchair, will also be less threatening and gives the nonverbal cue that you are engaged and interested in what they have to say.

3. Use Humor: Laughter is great medicine and helps to build rapport and diffuses a lot of uncomfortable situations. So go ahead, use your best knock knock joke.

4. Be a Good Listener: Try not to interrupt or fill in silence because they may be thinking about what was just said or may be thinking of a response. Also, if you are working with someone who has some cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, you may notice they tell you the same story on multiple occasions. While this may be “boring”, this is an indication that this memory has some significance for them. So let them tell you again and just listen as if it’s the first time.

5. Reminiscence Therapy: Reminiscing helps the elderly recall memories from the past and promotes a sense of belonging and feeling valued. It also helps maintain communication skills and imparts wisdom, skills and information to their partner in conversation. So while they may not remember who the current president is, they will most likely remember things from their distant past. Some easy ways to trigger this might be to look at their old photos together or just simply ask them where they grew up, or what kind of jobs they held.

6. The simplest conversation starter? A warm smile and sincere Hello!