Tips For Effective Communication With the Elderly

Updated on November 10, 2016

Things to Remember

As people grow older, it becomes more difficult for them to communicate effectively. Sensory losses, that often come with aging, can often cause barriers in communication, but these barriers can be overcome with a little effort and consideration.

It is important to remember that elderly people were once young themselves, and the difficulties that they may now experience during communication were not always there. This can sometimes lead to frustration for an older person if they suddenly encounter more difficulty in their communications than they had in the past.

Frustration can escalate and lead to bigger emotional difficulties such as anger (either at themselves or the person who is having trouble understanding their efforts), withdrawal from further social efforts or embarrassment.

Tips to Improve Communication with the Elderly

Here are some tips that will assist you in learning how to communicate more effectively with the elderly.

  • Sit face-to-face

Sitting directly opposite the elderly person you are communicating with can help a great deal in making the communication effective. By sitting face-to-face, you are eliminating any possible background distractions and letting the elder know that they have your full attention.

  • Maintain eye contact

Eye contact is another small detail that can have a massive effect on the communication. Establishing and maintaining eye contact during conversation allows the elder to read facial expressions more, along with eradicating any outside distractions.

  • Communicate clearly

When communicating with an elderly person, it is important to make sure that the communication methods you are using are clear. Speak at a volume and pace that the other person can understand, and be aware of any sensory problems they may have. An elderly person may be hard of hearing, so you may need to speak louder than you would while communicating with younger people. They may have problems with their eyesight, so you may need to emphasize any body language a little more that usual.

  • Listen

Listening is perhaps the most important part of communicating effectively with the elderly. By incorporating all of the above tips into your conversation, you will already be letting the older person know that they have your attention and that they are important. Listen to what they have to say, and remember that you will not be the only person struggling to communicate. They'll be finding it just as difficult from the other side. Make it known that you are listening to them by responding to what they are saying. A simple nod, smile, or word of acknowledgment is sometimes enough. Ask questions if you are unsure of what they are trying to say to help them communicate their point more effectively.

  • Be patient

Patience is essential when it comes to communicating effectively with the elderly. You may not be able to get your point across immediately, and it is likely you will have to repeat yourself a couple of times before the elder understands what you are trying to communicate. Don't get frustrated or irritated with them, and remember that their reactions may be a little slower than what you are used to. If you find that you have to repeat yourself too often, try slowing down and speaking a little clearer until they understand.

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Respect Your Elders

It's an old cliché, but the expression goes a long way. By showing respect to the elder during conversation, you can establish trust and build a bond. Remember that the older person's view on a lot of things will more than likely be different to the opinions that you have. Their life experiences will be different to yours, and it is important to acknowledge that. Generational gaps can make a huge difference in opinion, and it is crucial that you accept that fact when communicating effectively with the elderly.

Ask for, and value, their opinions on topics that are discussed. Treat them as you would wish to be treated, and be careful to not insult them by offering to do things that they may possibly be able to do for themselves. Don't undervalue them, and make sure you allow them to keep their sense of dignity.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    Do you have any tips to add?

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      • DDE profile image

        Devika Primić 

        7 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

        Good points sometimes it can be difficult to communicate with the elder, they don't hear you properly or fail to understand you.

      • Sidewinder6661 profile imageAUTHOR

        Leese Wright 

        7 years ago from Manchester, UK

        I don't think a certain age really defines an "old person" these days. People are aging really well. Some people can still hold great communication when they are in their 80s or 90s, and others experience problems much earlier than that. I think it varies from person to person and is dependent on a lot of factors such as illnesses and sensory losses.

      • Lilleyth profile image

        Suzanne Sheffield 

        7 years ago from Mid-Atlantic

        I appreciate what you have written here now that I'm getting close to being one of those "old people" (depending on your perspective, perhaps I am already one of them). Thumbs up.


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