5 Tips to Communicate Effectively with Aging Patients
February 22 2019
Why Just Speaking Louder is Not Enough
With age comes a slowing in cognitive function and hearing loss for many. While it may seem simple enough to just speak louder, there are other ways in which you can help communicate more effectively with your aging patients. With more effective communication, not only will your elderly patients enjoy the interaction with you more, but you will also be able to provide better care for them.
Many aging patients have an increased need for medical information but also may be more likely to communicate poorly, be nervous or lack focus. With age it is also harder to process large amounts of information. Plan for your visits with older patients to require more time, especially with those suffering from Dementia or Alzheimer’s. You also don’t want to appear rushed or uninterested as your patients will sense this and shut down, effectively ending communication with them about their health.
Speak Simply and Clearly with Compassion
When you speak, do so slowly and clearly. Speak louder for those that are harder of hearing, but do not yell at them. When your voice it too loud, it can distort certain sounds and actually make it harder for a person that is hearing impaired to understand what you are saying.
Be sure to simplify information and use short, simple words and sentences. Do not use medical jargon or technical terms and do not assume that a patient will understand even the basic medical terminology. Instead, use words that are familiar and comfortable to your patients. If needed, write out simple instructions for your patients. This will also make it easier for patients that have hearing difficulties, memory loss or both.
Remember to be gentle. Be both compassionate and kind in your voice and actions. A soothing voice can go a long way to help calm an elderly patient who is upset or confused. Remember to put yourself in your patient’s shoes and understand that getting older is not easy nor is it golden, as the old saying would suggest. Express empathy and understanding. Despite a multitude of health issues or a slowing of cognitive functioning, the elderly are still people with emotions and needs and should be treated with kindness and compassion.
When interacting with elderly patients, sit face-to-face. Make sure that their view of your face is unobstructed. This will make it easier for those with hearing loss to read your lips if they have the ability to do so. Also, sitting face-to-face helps to minimize distractions, allowing the patient to focus on you more easily. It also sends them the signal that you believe this interaction with them is important and worth your time.
Maintain Eye Contact
Eye contact is a powerful form of nonverbal communication. It sends the signal to your patients that you are concerned for them and their health. By maintaining eye contact, you will create a positive environment, allowing your patient to feel comfortable and open up to you about their health, thus providing you with more valuable information to help care for them.
Listen…Then Ask Questions
Actively listen to your patients, letting them finish their thoughts fully without interruption. This will not only ensure a more trusting relationship between you and your patients, but it will also ensure that you do not miss any valuable information that will help you to treat your patient and what ails them in a more effective manor.
After fully listening to your patient, ask questions to help clarify what they are saying or to learn more information that will help you in treating them. After each question, let the patient fully express him or herself before asking the next question. For those with more severe cognitive dysfunction, such as Dementia, ask yes or no questions to simplify the communication process.
It is also important to ask and not order your elderly patients around. This will help your aging patients to still feel relevant and respected. Instead of saying “It is time for you to have a shower,” ask “Are you ready for your shower now?” And by offering options you can also allow your elderly patients to feel like they are in more control of their lives. For example “Would you like soup or grilled chicken for dinner today?”
With patience and empathy, you can show your aging patients that you truly care for their well-being. By minimizing distractions, speaking clearly and simply, actively listening and sending positive non-verbal cues, you can have a trusting and open relationship with your elderly patients. This will not only ensure that you can provide better and more thorough care, but that you will create a relationship that has a positive impact in the lives of your aging patients.