Why is it that communication with elderly relatives is so hard for family caregivers? There are many reasons; some that can be mitigated, and some that can’t.
Hearing & Vision Loss
For example, it is not uncommon for seniors to experience hearing and/or vision loss that contributes to their inability to understand what you are saying. Hearing loss can progress slowly, making it more difficulty for older adults to even know they are having trouble. Fortunately, there are many professionals that can help diagnose the problems and apply technical solutions, such as hearing aids, that can improve the situation.
In addition to help from technology, family caregivers can also take steps to improve communication.
- Speak clearly while facing your elderly relative. This enables them to use lip reading and gestural cues to help them understand. Mumbling and speaking rapidly can increase confusion and thereby frustration on both sides of the conversation.
- Avoid speaking too slowly. Just as you don’t want to speak too fast, speaking too slowly adds complications to the conversation. It can make the other person feel like they are being spoken down to or that they are “stupid.”
- Maintain eye contact during conversations. Making eye contact shows that you are truly listening. Your facial expressions are also clearer to the other person, so they can tell if your reaction to what they are saying is appropriate. If you are moving around the room, checking your phone or watch, or are otherwise distracted, you give the impression that the conversation is not important.
- Stay focused. Keep your conversation directed to one thing at a time. Multiple topics and complicated sentences create additional reasons for confusion.
- Use questions instead of orders. Instead of ordering your relation to do things, use questions that enable them to make choices. For example, instead of saying, “eat your sandwich,” you might ask, “would you like a sandwich today?” In addition to providing an option, it demonstrates that you still respect their needs and desires.
- Don’t insult their intelligence or their values and beliefs. The elderly generally retain their intelligence and knowledge, although they may need more time communicating it. Don’t take their slower response for lack of intelligence. Furthermore, arguing with them about their beliefs and values is disrespectful and can lead to their withdrawal from you.
It is not uncommon for caregivers to feel as if their roles with their aging relatives have been reversed. Caregivers often step into the role of the parent and caregiver without thinking about the feelings of their elder, who may have spent a lifetime as the caregiver and advisor to the family. The physical elements of aging and issues related to loss of control can be exacerbated if seniors feel like they are being treated like children.
Showing respect for the experiences and knowledge of elders is important to both their wellbeing and yours, as it can reduce the psychological burdens that accompanying aging and caregiving. Additionally, it reduces the likelihood of arguing, avoiding and stonewalling behaviors that hamper your ability to provide care.
Involve a Third Party
If you are having difficulty communicating about a health or lifestyle issue, consider calling in a third party — an geriatric care manager, physician, or other professional, who is not as emotionally engaged as you may be. They can provide information more objectively, help clarify understanding on both sides, and mediate a solution.
Do you need help communicating with an elderly person under your care? Give us a call. We are happy to discuss how we might help you maintain the best relationship with your aging family, provide additional care options, and reduce the physical and emotional stress that family caregiving can cause.
Source: Dee Childers, MA, CMC.
Professional Aging Life Care ManagerTM