Published: Nov 12, 2014
Effective communicators know their audience, and they change their communications to suit those audiences. The language a doctor uses when consulting with colleagues will not be the same, hopefully, as that used when speaking with patients. Mothers speak with their children differently than they would with their spouses. How you verbally interact on a job interview will differ from how you interact when out to dinner with friends, or with the neighbor, or with the sales clerk at the grocery store. By changing your communication strategy, you ensure that your message is successfully transmitted to the other person.
Sometimes, though, needed changes in communication are not always instantly recognized. Communication needs for older adults can sometimes change slowly and imperceptibly over time. These changes occur due to sensory and memory loss, slower comprehension times, psychological factors, and aging processes. This inadvertently can increase communication barriers between older adults and their loved ones as their loved ones continue to use the same communication strategy with the older person without realizing that their strategy should change for their message to be comprehended.
When this happens, people can get frustrated and angry as they feel the older person is “just not listening to them.” In some cases this can escalate to the person shouting at the senior in a poor attempt to “get their message across.” This can even lead to elder abuse as tempers flare. At the other end of the spectrum, communications between older individuals and their loved ones can cease as the communication divide increases.
Situations like these can be avoided by changing communication strategies. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association provides the following useful tips to ensure you are speaking with, not speaking at, an older adult:
Remember, a conversation is two way, so allow the older adult to converse comfortably and change your approach as necessary. Refrain from speaking to the older person as if he or she were a child. Doing so can strengthen relationships and provide an enjoyable experience for all parties involved.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (n.d.). Communicating better with older people. Retrieved from http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/Communicating-Better-With-Older-People/.
The Gerontological Society of America. (2012). Communicating with older adults: An evidence-based review of what really works. Retrieved from http://www.agingresources.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/GSA_Communicating-with-Older-Adults-low-Final.pdf.