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Tips on communicating well with the elderly

Tips on communicating well with the elderly

Caring for and having positive relationships with seniors requires communicating effectively with them. Here are some tips to help you communicate well with your elderly family members.


1. Empathise and develop mutual understanding

When communicating with your loved one, it’s important to try to understand each other better and work towards mutual understanding. Having an open mind and remembering to empathise can go a long way in this process. Respect their perspectives, opinions and feelings and understand their point of view by putting yourself in their shoes.


Sometimes, it can be easy to lose patience and become frustrated with the elderly if they are slow, forgetful or needy. If you do run out of patience, always take a time out and talk to them when you’re in a calmer state of mind.


2. Be considerate when speaking

The elderly may have different communication needs depending on their health conditions and surrounding environment.


Speed and tone: Adjust the speed and tone of your speech according to the elderly’s need. For instance, talk to those with dementia at a slower pace and talk louder to those with hearing problems. At times, the elderly may need you to repeat your statement several times. Slow down when repeating to help them to catch what they may have missed previously.


An appropriate tone also conveys patience and understanding, while being stern may cause your loved one to feel wronged or scolded. 


Sit face to face: Some seniors may suffer from hearing loss. Sitting in front of them enables them to read your lips, facial expressions and gestures and receive the information more clearly. Maintaining eye contact also creates a more comfortable and trusting atmosphere.


Choice of words: The elderly may not be familiar with some of the terms we use. Try to use words that are familiar, or use simple words to convey the same meaning. For instance, use ‘take one fruit after each meal’ instead of ‘take more fibre’. Also, try to avoid long, complicated sentences as information overload can confuse the elderly.


Appropriate questioning: Sometimes your loved one may not fully understand what you are saying. If so, try simplifying the topic before asking leading, close-ended questions to understand their perspective. Having them answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in those situations is easier than asking them what they think.


3. Listen, don’t just hear

There’s a difference between hearing your loved one and listening to him/her. Listening requires active concentration in interpreting what the other person is saying while hearing is a passive intake of any surrounding sounds.


When communicating with your loved one, they could be trying to share their desires or needs with you. We need to actively listen as these may not always be said directly or explicitly. Avoid dominating the conversation and give them a chance to talk and express themselves.


4. Be aware of non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication makes up the bulk of the communication process as our facial expressions and gestures convey our attitudes. Eye contact, nods and some physical contact can communicate attention, patience and understanding. However, being distracted with your phone or other things around you can convey disinterest and apathy. Remember to keep an open, kind and respectful attitude when speaking with your loved one.


5. Be respectful

Most elderly want to feel respected and maintain control of their life. You can validate their needs by asking them questions and offering them options instead of ordering them on what to do. This can be as simple as giving them options on what to eat, instead of directing them on what they should eat.  


Download the Carer app and use it to hire an experienced nurse or care aide, or call us to find out more. You can also read more tips on the Carer app.  


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