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5 tips to communicate with an elderly loved one

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Posted on 8th October 2018.

As your loved one ages, it becomes increasingly important to be able to openly communicate about different concerns relating to their physical and mental wellbeing, as well as the challenging transitions they may face.

Difficulties with communication can impede these conversations and can therefore make it harder to help them.

Elderly woman with her granddaughter

When we get older our behaviours, interests and methods of communication change which can make it difficult to hold conversations. However, this does not mean that it is impossible to still connect with your elderly loved ones.

With your grandparents, parents or other older relatives, you may find that the roles are reversed and the person who once supported you may be in need of assistance themselves. While it may be difficult to keep up with these changes of roles within the family unit, there are ways to make the process of communication easier.

You know your loved one best, so will usually know exactly how to talk to them. However, if you find you are having difficulty with getting through, here are a few tips to help the conversation flow.

1. Show patience and empathy

It is important to remember that your loved one may not be able to respond as quickly as they once did and need a bit more time to formulate their sentences. This may be down to a specific medical condition such as dementia or Parkinson’s but could also be caused by general age-related frailties.

Through being patient, remaining open to hear what they want to say and showing empathy, you can still encourage your loved one to participate in conversations. As well as this, it can be vital to offer reassurance so they feel confident to still communicate with others.

Your loved one may be experiencing physical challenges or forgetfulness which can result in them feeling agitated or frustrated. It is important during these times to always show compassion and put yourself in their shoes.

2. Keep it simple

Lady speaking to grandmother If their age or condition mean that they have difficulty with following in-depth conversations, then you may need to keep it light and simple. Try to quickly get to the point of your sentences without becoming overly convoluted.

When you find you need to broach more serious topics, speak in short sentences. This will help them to follow the conversation and will mean that you are able to convey the important information without overwhelming them.

Breaking down complex subjects into smaller parts can be easier to manage, not only for your loved one but also you. When giving instructions, always give them one at a time and help by talking them through the actions.

3. Involve them in decisions

Many older individuals may feel that their freedom of choice is taken away from them as they enter the later years of their lives. They can be excluded from the conversations around big decisions which greatly affect their life, which can negatively impact their sense of self-worth.

Simply asking their opinion on different matters will help to ease this discomfort while also giving you a valuable insight into their thinking.

After the conversation, give your loved one the opportunity to ask questions. This will allow them the time to communicate any worries they may have and will also allow you to determine whether they have completely understood the chat.

4. Clear reasonable volume

Elderly father and adult son

Even if your loved one is losing their hearing slightly, nobody likes to have someone shout at them. You should keep your voice at a reasonable volume, still probably louder than you would usually speak, and ensure you’re speaking clearly.

It also helps to make sure you are sitting face-to-face and maintaining eye contact as this will help them to gauge your intended meaning. If your loved one has hearing loss, they may choose to read in order to receive the information correctly. As well as this, by using eye contact you are sending the message that what you are saying is important.

5. Ask for help

If, when communicating with your elderly loved ones, you find you are having trouble or have hit a roadblock, you should ask for help. You could turn to other family members or even professionals – there may be a medical reason behind the difficulty in following conversations or articulating their needs. A diagnosis could mean that specialist support can be put in place.

Not only this, your loved one’s doctor has undoubtedly helped other individuals who have faced these difficulties and will be able to offer you some advice or recommend any outside resources which may be useful.

Kerry Wright