Conversations are part of everyday life. If you stop and think about how many different people you have spoken to over the course of the day, most of us would be able to say that we’ve had countless conversations – some easy, some difficult; some nonessential, some meaningful.
Communication and the joy of connection is critical to us all, but especially the senior adult. Many times, whether due to health issues, such as hearing loss, or even cognitive slow down and/or various forms of dementia, communication with older adults can leave many of us at a loss at how best to reach out and connect. While it’s not always easy, creating an experience where everyone feels they are included, and have an important contribution, can often lead to very meaningful conversations about worthwhile issues as well as every day occurrences.
Some things to keep in mind when communicating with older adults include:
Often older adults can tend to consistently talk about the same one or two topics, often repeating the same information or stories over and over again. While in certain situations, this can signal a change in cognitive function or memory loss, it can also be simply a natural expression of what is most important to them at this particular time in their life. By authentically listening, you can validate their perspective or concern or recollection, making them feel good about sharing it with you. This listening skill also allows you to find a way to make a topic change that doesn’t seem as abrupt or rude should you find yourself frustrated by the repetitive nature of the conversation.
Accentuate the positive
Seniors can greatly benefit from the “happiness factor” – this means starting conversations about a happy or engaging topic, being upbeat in voice and body language as well as genuine in any remarks and can often open the door for wonderful, heartfelt conversations. Turning a question such as, “How is your day?” into a positive statement, “You look great today!” can at times quickly change the tone and outcome of an entire dialog. It gives you and the senior a chance to move into something more positive and uplifting to talk about versus inviting a list of ailments or complaints.
Use open-ended questioning
As we age, we all experience changes in how our brain functions and takes in new information. For some, this is hardly noticeable, but for others significant. By avoiding direct questions, you can ease the stress and anxiety a senior may feel by their perception of being ‘put on the spot’ with something they can’t quite respond to in a quick or even, accurate manor. Start with questions that allow you to both look at the bigger picture, and then take a lead from the senior on where to go next in the conversation and keeps the dialogue moving forward. The goal is to really connect with the person to whom you are speaking and honor and learn from what they have to share with you, whatever that may be.
It is almost at the core of human nature to share stories, ideas and experiences with people around us. Older adults are no different. By authentically listening, being upbeat and positive and opening the door for whatever direction a senior would like to take the conversation, you provide a sense of competency and validation for their life experience. And when they feel like a true contributor to your conversation, it’s more likely your experience won’t end up with hurt feelings, but plans for next time.