It’s a special time of year! Friends and family are gathering together to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate the holidays. During this season, it can be especially important for seniors to reminisce and spend time with their loved ones. However, sometimes younger family members aren’t quite sure how to talk to older people, while the senior members of the family struggle with feeling left out. Communicating with older adults can be less of a challenge once there is an understanding of what causes this divide, and by utilizing communication tactics to overcome it.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Imagine sitting at the holiday dinner table and feeling that the conversation is going on around you instead of including you. As a senior it can feel as if, despite your years of wisdom and experience, you’ve been relegated to “kid’s table” status again! Dementia and other serious neurological problems are not always what is causing the communication divide. In fact, the problem can often stem from far more manageable places.
Be Mindful of Hearing Loss
University of Cincinnati research points out that natural sensory losses that come with aging, like the inability to hear high tones or declining vision, can make it more difficult to follow a conversation. Fortunately as loved ones, these are problems we can solve easily by assisting our seniors with hearing aids, glasses, or simply using slightly slower and louder speech patterns around them. Relatively minor limitations don’t have to stop everyone from being involved in those holiday conversations.
Offer Choices and Recognize Their Independence
The physical limitations that come with aging may mean that seniors need assistance more than they did in the past, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they also need your support mentally. It’s an important consideration to make when communicating with the older adults in your life. Psychology Today notes that providing choices to elderly loved ones (“Would you like water or tea, Grandmom?”) acknowledges their independence more than a direct order (“Drink this water, Grandmom.”). Remember to use those “I” statements that are critical to all relationships. When communicating with older adults, “I” statements can foster positive feelings by reinforcing that the senior adult is recognized as an equal partner in the conversation. These small interactions set the tone for other communications later on.
Ask Open-Ended Questions, Listen, & Follow Up
When it comes to facilitating conversations with elders, be sure to use some of those techniques you learned in English class. Find a starting point, ask about holidays past for instance, and then ask open-ended questions that will elicit more than a yes or no response. Next, follow up on responses with who, what, when, where, why, and how questions. Conversations become more complex and engaging that way, not to mention they require listening on both sides, so seniors will know that they are being heard and talked to as opposed to talked at. Concerns about how to talk to seniors this holiday can be lessened now and all year round by remembering that how you say something is just as important as what you say!
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