Elderly communication issues can take many forms. I’d had experience working with seniors before, but when Dad came to live with me at age 94, I was in for a few surprises.
There may be actual hearing loss involved (as with Dad). There may be the onset of dementia, which Dad did experience later. There may be depression. And there may personality traits to deal with… such as downright stubbornness. Or anger.
Some older people try to pretend that nothing is going on, nothing is wrong. Others complain frequently. It seems the lives of seniors are always changing in some way. Continuous change can be rough. It’s also rough on the caregiver and the family.
Regardless of the cause of difficulties, a crucial part of caregiver duties is that caregivers, family members, even friends, learn to communicate as well as possible with our elderly. Their very well-being may depend on it. So does our own sanity.
Hearing Loss Issues
It is no secret that hearing loss as we age is one of the major challenges seniors face, to the point where is it almost epidemic. And hearing loss is one of the biggest contributors to elderly communication issues. My father experienced serious and sudden hearing loss, and I needed to learn to cope very quickly, as I was his primary caregiver.
As we age and changes occur, it is not always easy to understand someone or communicate well, as was the case with Dad. So I had to repeat and explain again (and again) as needed. I learned to speak loudly and slowly. Actually, in his case, it was annoying if we spoke too loudly. He had a very good hearing aid. It was clarity that was the issue. So speaking slowly and in a monotone was important.
Dealing with elderly communication issues that involve hearing loss can simply be a matter of finding practical solutions to every-day situations. Care for elderly in home may require special adjustments. Dad had large-print phones with volume control, which he was able to basically hear. We put one in his bedroom, the sitting room, and in the main living room area. When family or friends called in, he was able to ramp up the volume and clarity control to talk to them. He also had a one-touch speed dial system for making outgoing phone calls. Raised buttons were adhered to certain numbers on the phone, for easy identification.
Selective Hearing and Understanding
Sometimes it is true that elderly cannot hear certain sound frequencies. Dad, in fact, misses whole chunks of conversation due to this. And he tries not to let on. You may need to try changing the tones of your voice, and it may be a matter of trial and error for awhile. It took months of trial for my kids to find a tone of voice that their grandfather could finally hear (somewhat).
I did finally learn, however, that often Dad would simply tune out what he was not interested in. He could certainly hear and understand more than he was letting on to. But he did not want us to know this, because he didn’t want to bother with certain things or be bothered by other things. So he just selectively tuned it out.
It was not necessarily a matter of being stubborn or lazy. It truly took a lot of concentration for him to listen. And he didn’t want to. But this sometimes became a real problem.
As understandable as this might be, I had to gently challenge him on it a few times. I did not want this to develop into a control game, especially in important matters.
I had to make sure, for instance, that he fully understood that (at age 96 1/2) the doctor insisted (and so did I) that he use his walker. He would pretend he hadn’t heard this and simply did not use it. There came a point when I had to gently tell him that if he wanted to continue living here with me, he would have to use his walker (and follow other guidelines) so that I could continue to take care of him. That did it.
Another matter to be aware of with elderly communication issues, is that background noise becomes very bothersome and can interfere with hearing and responding. There are digital hearing aids available that can cut down on this. But it never did work for my Dad.
So be sure to understand whether background noise is going to be one of the elderly communication issues you and the one you’re caring for will be dealing with. Be aware of the environment you and your elderly are in.
Making sure only one person speaks at a time is important. I have even had to ask people to please stop talking for a moment. (After all, the gathering was for him). I could see Dad was trying to hear what someone was saying to him, and he was getting very frustrated.
Large social gatherings can be very challenging for many elderly people, rather than truly enjoyable. It is one of the situations my father dislikes the most. Most of the time he will not attend now. And only wants visitors for a half-hour.
Problems with Socializing
Dad’s hearing loss was so severe that he could not participate well in social activities. That is one of the reasons he moved in with me – it was almost impossible for him to socialize at his assisted living facility. Being around others was almost overwhelming. (He also has severe vision loss). Communicating with anyone except certain members of the family is still one of his major issues.
Elderly people may have preferences and desires …different from other family members. Those experienced in care of elderly know they can be set in their ways. Be sensitive to their feelings.
Any kind of change or stress can be difficult for them. They may become confused, depressed, frightened like Dad was; even angry. And sometimes unable to articulate or appreciate your help.
Being Direct and Clear
Besides hearing loss and actual symptoms of dementia, confusion, inability to quickly process what is being said and done, and memory loss can all affect elderly communication issues. There is also the matter of personal pride. Many older people will pretend they know what it going on, even when they don’t. And there will be times when it is crucial that they do know.
With Dad, I have to specifically ask him if he understood what I said. And what I meant. Sometimes I have him repeat back to me, so I can be sure. He now knows I will do this with important things, (and trying to fool me will not work). But it has to be done in a very dignified and kind way, of course.
Even though our elderly may now be somewhat helpless, we do not want to treat them as a child. Once in awhile Dad would have confusion and truly almost seem like a child. But he certainly did not want me to respond to him as such! When working with elderly communication issues, we can strive to help them become as independent as possible.
Be sure to also read:
Signs of Elderly Problems — There are telling signs of elderly problems. Problems that are often hidden. It is crucial to learn to tell the signs for the health and safety of loved ones. This is also when knowing how to work with elderly communication issues is valuable.
Elderly Stress Issues — Needless to say, aging can add up to stress. Especially when many things are happening at once. It can be quite eye-opening.