5 Barriers to Communicating With the Elderly

When it comes to communicating with the elderly, many people find themselves avoiding it, unless they have to. Caretakers and family members tend to dismiss the elderly as less significant in the conversation as they age and strangers rarely engage with the elderly at all. Think about the last encounter you had with a senior, did you talk to them or simply hurry about your day? There is a common misconception that the elderly are slow, forgetful, and a conversation with them would take more time than you have to give. However, this mentality puts a real blockade in the way of communicating with one of the most important generations. The common misconceptions about senior communications tend to create a generalized bias toward all elderly, which is a real problem.

With advances in medical technology, improvements in environmental conditions and nutrition (from the early 1900s), people are living longer, so it is important to be able to communicate with our older generations. After all, they hold all the history and wisdom that would benefit us all. Join us in today’s post as we discuss some of the common barriers to communicating with the elderly and some tactics for overcoming them.

Generational Gaps

One barrier to communicating with the elderly falls on the shoulders of both parties. Generational gaps make discussions difficult, but not impossible. Sure, over time, words evolve, meanings change, and communication styles change. In a society of quick snippet communication, preferred to be read on a screen, it may be difficult for younger generations to take the time to actually listen for a few moments. Additionally, the informal, fast speech of younger generations using newer terms and lingo can be difficult to be interpreted and well-understood by older people. When conversing with the elderly, try to meet in the middle. Take some time to try to understand what they mean and where they are coming from. And, for everyone’s sake, put the phone away and join the face-to-face conversation. That advice is practical when speaking to your children as well.

Hearing Deficits

It is a common misconception that the elderly cannot hear. This leads to the younger generations speaking louder or slower in an attempt to be heard. While hearing loss is more common in the elderly, it is not a normal part of aging and not all seniors experience hearing loss. About one-third of the population older than 65 has some form of hearing loss. Devices such as hearing aids have helped the elderly overcome these barriers and you can help by making the effort to be heard and allow them to be heard.

Speech Impairments

Conditions such as aphasia, dysarthria, or apraxia that are caused by stroke and other medical conditions can make it difficult for the elderly to speak, but does not hinder their ability to understand, think, or feel. Allowing them a way to express themselves is important. Parkinson’s disease can cause speech problems that include voice changes, reduced fluency or articulation, and may make the senior sound like they are mumbling. Myasthenia gravis and multiple sclerosis (MS) can cause a host of speech problems related to muscle control that includes vocal fatigue, slurred speech, monotone, hypernasal, and difficulty controlling pitch or volume of the voice. While all of these conditions may make it more difficult to communicate, with a little effort by both parties, effective communication is still possible.

Terms and Language

A common barrier to communication at any age is a disconnect between what was said and what was meant. Language causes problems between people who do not speak the same language, or when one person has a strong accent. Language can also cause communication barriers when different words mean different things to the speaker and the listener. Additionally, even when the speaker and listener are speaking the same language, medical terms, regional terms, and generational terms can cause a gap in understanding. This barrier is common between different generations where terms have evolved to mean something different. Both parties may benefit from clarifying what was said and how they understood it. Reduce your use of jargon and clarify any terms the elderly person does not seem to understand.

Cognitive Deficits

Perhaps one of the biggest barriers to communicating with the elderly is with those who suffer some sort of cognitive deficit. For instance, someone who suffers from dementia, but is able to vocalize their needs may not be able to comprehend or remember what you are saying, leading many people to disengage from the conversation or become frustrated. It is important to understand that although they may not recall what is said in the long-run, to them, the conversation now is very real. Those who suffer from brain tumors, Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, or other cognitive disorders may have varying abilities of understanding and communication. Never assume and try to slow down and communicate. For more tips on managing Alzheimer’s disease, read our post here.

After reading these tips and the communication tips from our last post we hope that you have a better understanding of the importance of communicating with the elderly and have found some useful ways to make communication more purposeful and productive. If you need help caring for your aging loved one, contact the in-home care professionals at Angels on Call Homecare. Our friendly and experienced staff are well-versed at communicating with people of all ages and abilities and we can help teach you and your family how to have more meaningful interactions with your seniors. Contact us for an in-home evaluation today!

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