Updated: Jun 27
Communication is an art that requires finesse, empathy, and understanding. It’s unfortunate how often well-intentioned conversations can unintentionally miss the mark. In our work with seniors and their families, we pay close attention to the nuances of communication styles and in this article, we will explore common communication mistakes people tend to make when engaging with elders and provide insights on fostering better connections. Let's delve into the world of effective communication with our elderly loved ones and learn from their experiences.
Blurring the line between speaking clearly and sounding condescending:
Many aging folks have varying degrees of hearing loss and – yes – may need you to speak up, come closer to them when speaking, and/or position yourself in front of them where they can read your lips and facial expressions. However, one of the most common blunders when talking to seniors is assuming they have hearing problems and perceiving any hearing difficulty as cognitive impairment. Consequently, individuals tend to raise their voices or adopt a patronizing tone when addressing seniors, which can be highly demeaning. Instead, it's crucial to treat seniors with respect, speaking clearly and at a normal volume unless they indicate they need you to speak up. Take the time to listen actively and be patient if they require additional time to process information or respond.
Hurrying conversations with seniors, whether it's due to time constraints or impatience, is a frequent occurrence that can make them feel undervalued and ignored. This is a common phenomenon in the dynamic between young/middle-aged adults and seniors or children, where the latter parties can be quickly dismissed if they are perceived to take too long on their end of a conversation. Seniors often have rich life experiences to share, and their perspectives can offer valuable insights. Slowing down the pace of conversation allows them to express themselves fully and helps build a meaningful connection.
Using baby talk:
It may be okay to address your aging loved ones with terms like "sweetie," "dear," or "honey" if they have been part of your life for a long time and you know that this is something they appreciate. However, while it may seem endearing, using such terms with seniors you’re not overly familiar with, especially in a professional setting, can come off as belittling. It's best to address them by their preferred name or with a respectful title unless they have explicitly indicated otherwise. Furthermore, using “baby talk” or an infantilizing tone with any aging adults, even those who are part of your family, undermines their autonomy and maturity.
Neglecting to involve seniors in decision-making:
As a geriatric care management team of nurses, social workers, and elderly care experts, we strongly focus on advocating for our senior clients to receive care according to their own wishes and preferences. A common mistake we observe in family dynamics is people talking to service providers about their aging parents or relatives like they are not in the room. Especially when an elderly person has hearing-loss, cognitive decline, or an illness or disability that makes it more difficult for them to communicate, people around them tend to assume that they no longer wish to be involved in making decisions that affect their own life or well-being, or even worse, that they don’t need to be. This assumption can lead to excluding them from discussions about their own well-being, which can be disempowering and demoralizing. It’s crucial to address seniors as you would a person close to your own age and to remember that any help you provide for them should ultimately be according to their own choices. Engage seniors in conversations that involve topics affecting them, seeking their input and respecting their preferences.
Making assumptions based on age:
It's essential to recognize that age does not define an individual's capabilities, interests, or intellectual capacity. Assuming that seniors are technologically illiterate, uninterested in current events, or unable to adapt to change is a grave error. Approach conversations with an open mind, seeking to understand their unique perspectives and experiences. You may be pleasantly surprised by the depth and breadth of their knowledge.
Communicating effectively with elderly individuals requires a conscious effort to avoid common mistakes. We can build stronger connections and foster mutual understanding by treating seniors with respect, actively listening, and engaging them in meaningful conversations. Let us learn from the communication missteps of the past and embrace a more inclusive and empathetic approach when engaging with seniors. After all, they have much to offer, and by bridging the generation gap, we can create a more compassionate and connected society.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with providing care to an elderly loved one, reach out to us through our website, comment below, or message us on social media (@seniorsteps) and we will set up a FREE call for you with a geriatric care management professional to discuss how we may be able to help you.