Communicating Effectively with Elder Loved Ones


As a caregiver it is important to remember that while communication with the elderly may be more challenging, it’s worth the effort. By maintaining a close and loving connection with an elderly person, you honor your relationship, and help to improve that person’s quality of life.

How To Communicate More Effectively With The Elderly

Age-related decline in physical abilities can make communication more challenging, and without a doubt some illnesses make communication more difficult. A hearing loss makes you harder to understand, so be patient and speak more clearly to your residents. Likewise, be sure you face the resident when you talk, and avoid talking while you eat, and check to see if an assistive listening device could improve communication by phone. Also, vision loss makes it harder for the elderly person to recognize you, so don’t take it personally.

Some elderly people experience changes in speaking ability, and their voices become weaker, or harder to understand. Be patient when listening, and be aware of when the elderly person gets tired and wants the visit to end. Some age-related memory loss is normal as people grow older, although people experience different degrees of memory loss. Most often, short-term memory is affected, making it harder for an elderly person to remember recent events. Keep this in mind, and practice patience.

Allow Your Loved One To Reminisce And To Grieve

When someone lives to be very old, it is impossible not to experience some feelings of significant loss. The deaths of relatives and friends, losing the ability to work and be independent, changes in health and finances, and being unable to make simple decisions can all affect an elderly person’s self-esteem. These losses can create sadness, and grieving. Common responses to grieving are depression, social withdrawal, and irritability. As a caregiver you should look for these symptoms in your elderly residents and seek medical advice or counseling should the need arise.

If you have an elderly relative or friend who has moved to an assisted living home you know that your relationship has changed. Elderly people who are unable to live independently often have a chronic illness or some level of dementia that makes self-care and communication difficult.

Ways To Be A Better Communicator

Be Respectful

Always respect the elderly person’s background, knowledge, and values. The resident may be a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle and might be trying to convey an important message. Instead of waving the person off or deciding that communicating with the elderly person is not important, show respect by paying attention to what the person is saying. Demonstrate to the person that you value his/her opinion and treat them as you would want to be treated. Elderly people have feelings and emotions just like anyone else, so be empathetic.


Listen carefully to what the elderly person is saying. If there is a problem with his speech, perhaps you can offer a pen and paper so he or she can write their thoughts down on paper. Maybe the person has trouble articulating properly and you are unsure of what he/she is saying. Repeat what the resident said and be sure you understand the full request. Also, speak to the resident slowly and pronounce the words loud and clear. Remember that a resident may be agitated at not being able to get his thoughts across properly, so do what you can to help them out. Although some requests may be small, any request from the elderly resident is an important one.

Set Boundaries

Set boundaries with your loved ones. Communicating effectively is also determined by what you allow and do not allow. Sometimes elderly people can become quite demanding. This may be caused by some sort of disability the person is experiencing. Be sure you exhibit control in the situation. Perhaps a demanding mother, relative or friend wants to be fed at a certain time or expects you to always be available for a doctor’s appointment. Be nice yet firm when you make the resident aware that you have your own responsibilities to take care of; however, you will make time to help the resident out as needed.

Avoid Frustration

Avoid showing frustration in front of the resident. Communicating effectively works when both parties show appropriate body language. Although some elderly people can become abrasive and easily frustrated, it is important to remain calm even if it means staying quiet and counting slowly to ten. Try to refrain from crossing your arms, shuffling your feet, rolling your eyes and even sighing heavily. You are probably just as discouraged as the resident; however, make sure you understand that it is probably even more frustrating for the elderly resident being in his/her current situation or condition.

Our Author & Resident Caregiver
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