Learning Resources

10 Tips for Communicating with a Senior

Caregiving can cause major changes in family dynamics. Physical, emotional, social, and financial issues can arise, affecting the roles, responsibilities, and feelings of each family member. Such widespread change to the family dynamic can lead to increased tension and frequent disagreements.

10 Tips

1. Don’t Give Advice Unless It’s Asked For

Parents have guided and advised their children their whole lives, so hearing advice from a child–even an adult child—might not go over so well. This scenario highlights the perception of parent/child role reversal that often occurs in caregiving, and it can be hard for the parent to accept. Therefore, giving advice is best avoided unless you are sure it has been requested. It is generally better to let a neutral outside party be the advisor. You can provide encouragement and support, without doling out advice.

2. Listen to What Your Elderly Parent Is Saying

Really listen to what your elder is saying. Don’t interrupt them or feel the urge to fill periods of silence that often occur during conversations. A brief pause could mean your family member is contemplating a response and thinking through the conversation and how to reply. Listening does go both ways, though, so try to determine that the person is hearing what you say, too.

3. Accept Differences of Opinion

No matter how tightly knit a family is, everyone is not going to agree all of the time. Respect others’ opinions the same way you would like yours to be, and don’t disregard those who disagree with you. Listen to all sides, and try to compromise when a decision must be made.

4. Speak Clearly

Some older adults do not like to admit that they are hard of hearing or have trouble understanding the conversation around them. Remain calm and talk in a gentle, matter-of-fact way. Speak louder, if necessary, but do not shout. Make sure to enunciate clearly and avoid mumbling and talking too quickly. Focus on one idea at a time, and keep sentences short and simple. If your loved one still isn’t grasping what you are saying, try phrasing it differently and using different words.

5. Don’t Be Condescending

Make sure your attempt to ‘turn up the volume’ and slow down your speech pattern doesn’t come across as condescending. Even if your parent suffers from dementia or extreme hearing loss, don’t speak to them as if they are a child. Being patronizing is a sure-fire way to start an argument.

6. Choose the Right Environment

Avoid having in-depth or important conversations in settings where there is lots of competing noise or distracting activities. Turn off the TV or radio, or at least lower the volume. Face the person as you talk to them so that they can pick up on your facial expressions and read your lips, if necessary. When talking in a group, make sure that the elder is not on the end of the table or the outskirts of a seating arrangement. It is better to place them in the middle so that the conversation is happening around them.

7. Consider What It Is Like To Be Older

Most seniors experience a series of losses as they get older and strive to stay in control of themselves and their environment. Even if communicating with a loved one is frustrating and complicated, do your best to keep them involved in conversations and decisions they are able to participate in. Be mindful that your efforts to help can make them feel like they’re giving away control of things.

8. Pick Your Battles

Many seniors face growing challenges as they age, including mobility limitations, decreased stamina, loneliness, and memory problems. While your goal is to ensure their wellbeing, tackling every single issue at once can be frustrating and embarrassing for an elder. Instead, try to prioritize the issues you want to address and celebrate small victories one at a time.

9. Ask Questions

Having trouble thinking of things to talk about? Many of us don’t ask our elders nearly enough about their lives, especially as they get older. There’s no better way to become closer to a person, even if you’ve known them since you were born, than to ask. Find some conversation starters here: Questions to Ask Your Elderly Parents

10. Laugh When You Can

Laughter really is the best medicine. Humorous moments often arise, even in the most difficult and stressful care-giving situations. Be open to the opportunity to lighten things up and take things a little less seriously. A shared laugh can ease tension and build closeness with your loved ones. However, be sure to laugh with your family members and not at their expense.

Don’t Forget to Listen

Real connections cannot be established without effective listening. Listening is not just about hearing. Rather, it is an active process that changes how the speaker feels heard. Your listening quality affects how the speaker perceives you.

Listening is an action that influences what you hear. Your listening filters what you let in, and you are always listening for something, whether you realise it or not. By listening for a learning opportunity, you can learn more about your loved ones or the healthcare professionals you deal with, which can shift the energy and outcome of a conversation in surprising ways.

For example, if you are caregiving for a chronically dissatisfied mother, you can listen for an underlying message instead of writing off her complaints. By testing out what she really wants, you can shift her attitude and give her a sense of control over her life.

The way you listen can also impact the speaker’s perception of you. By cultivating a non-judgmental, compassionate, or learning listening, you can transform a difficult conversation into a constructive one. Take the time to understand what is important to the person, how they feel, and what might have happened to make them speak the way they are.

In today’s fast-paced society, we tend to rush through conversations to get on to the next thing. However, slow listening is essential for fostering mutual trust in your relationships, addressing your loved one’s serious concerns, and making them feel heard. Listen beyond anger and judgment, and listen slowly for opportunities for learning and connection.

Click here for advice if you are finding it hard to help your parents adapt to their circumstances:

Advice from people who have been there

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