For many family caregivers, it can be challenging to watch an elderly parent or another senior loved one start to experience communication problems.
If you have memories of holding long and meaningful talks with your parents, or remember them speaking up and entertaining everyone at the neighborhood block party, it can be confusing, frustrating, and even a little bit scary to watch as your elderly loved one starts to have trouble carrying on simple conversations, or avoid talking entirely.
Developing communication problems is an all-too-common experience for seniors, and it can take a major toll on their quality of life over time. As a family caregiver, one of the most important things you can do to help is to find new ways to communicate with your elderly loved ones, making sure that they feel supported, loved, and understood.
Why Is Communication Often Harder for Older Adults?
Over time, many seniors start to have more difficulty speaking, listening, and processing information, affecting their ability to communicate. Some of these changes are natural and completely ordinary – but in other cases, trouble communicating can be a sign of a more troubling underlying condition.
If your senior loved one is facing changes in their ability to speak, listen, and communicate, it could be due to any number of common conditions and causes, including:
As the National Institute of Health has reported, roughly one-third of all adults over the age of 60 experience some hearing problems, with that number increasing to half of all adults over 80. Hearing loss is a fact of life for many older adults, and there are many ways that family caregivers can step in and help, from helping connect seniors with specialized doctors, to developing new communication strategies. Major and minor hearing loss can both lead to a breakdown in a senior’s comfort and ability to communicate, and may significantly impact their confidence and skill at carrying on a conversation.
Aphasia is a common communication disorder that impedes one’s ability to speak and understand language. There are many different types of aphasia that can affect seniors, and it’s important to talk with a doctor if you believe your senior loved one may be at risk. Most commonly, aphasia is caused by stroke. In fact, one in four people who have a stroke will develop some degree of aphasia, according to the National Stroke Association.
Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia can dramatically affect a senior’s ability to speak and communicate. The neurological effects of dementia can impact one’s ability to understand and process language and speech. At the same time, dementia symptoms can make it more difficult for seniors to articulate or clearly express their own feelings or thoughts.
Dysphonia and Dysarthria
Over time, physical and mental changes can impact a senior’s ability to speak clearly, which could cause them to stop trying to communicate, in many cases. Dysphonia is a common speech disorder that can make it painful or difficult to speak. Dysarthria, another disorder, can impact the pronunciation and rhythm of speech. In some cases, dysarthria can be related to Parkinson’s Disease – another condition, along with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and ALS, which can also contribute to speech and communication disorders among seniors.
Cognitive and Sensory Changes
Many of the common effects of aging can also impact a senior’s ability to communicate. Major and minor vision loss can impact a person’s ability to pick up on cues and hold conversations, for example. Many older adults often naturally experience slower mental processing and have less of what experts call “working memory,” which can make it harder to carry on complex, multifaceted conversations.
Changes to a Senior’s Ability to Communicate Can Impact Their Quality of Life
Often, changes to a senior’s ability to speak, listen, and communicate can all serve as “yellow flags” that an elderly adult may need to consult with a medical professional or receive more routine non-medical home care service.
Just as importantly, over time, communication changes and challenges can impact a senior’s quality of life, in ways both large and small.
For many seniors, not being able to communicate effectively can lead to anger, frustration, anxiety, sadness, and depression, which may lead to dramatic mood swings, or cause a senior to lash out at family and friends. In that same vein, seniors who have trouble communicating may ultimately try to isolate themselves or withdraw from social events, in an attempt to avoid situations where they may have to speak.
Meanwhile, these communication challenges can make it more difficult for seniors to get the help and attention they deserve. In some cases, seeing a senior become less responsive may lead family caregivers and others to try to avoid communicating with their elderly loved one, believing that this is in the senior’s best interests. On the flip side, when a senior has trouble expressing their wants and needs, this can impact their level of care and their lines of communication with family members, physicians, and senior companions.
Improving Communication With Your Senior Loved Ones
As a loving and supportive family caregiver, it’s key to recognize that there are many aspects of a senior’s health and well-being that will fall outside of your control, despite your best efforts. One thing you can do to help a senior loved one manage difficulties with communication is to monitor your own habits, and focus on doing what you can to make speaking and listening easier day to day.
Here are a few simple steps that family caregivers can take to improve their communication with senior loved ones:
- Be open and empathetic. It’s important to realize that there may be good days and bad days. Try to put yourself in your loved one’s shoes, and be open to adapting, making changes, and doing what you can to help. Give them time to listen and process what you’re saying.
- Actively listen. Active listening is a powerful tool. This means maintaining eye contact and using your body language to show that you’re paying attention, as well as giving verbal confirmation that you’re hearing and understanding. For instance, you might repeat back the last thing your senior loved one said, to make sure you heard it correctly.
- Focus on non-verbal communication. Body language matters, on both sides of the conversation. On your end, use non-verbal cues like smiling or nodding to express the meaning behind your words. For your senior, pay attention to their body language. For instance, if they’re grimacing or fidgeting, they may be getting flustered, and it may be better to put a pin in the conversation.
- Use the power of touch. A gentle hand placed on an arm or shoulder can be a powerful gesture, and a way to communicate that you are present and connected to your senior loved one.
- Speak clearly, succinctly, and naturally. Use short, simple sentences as much as possible. Try to focus on speaking about one thing at a time, and finish one thought before moving on to another.
- Use names and specific details. The more you can avoid “he,” “she,” or “they,” the better. Use names, familiar places, and other specific details, to help paint a clear picture for your senior loved one.
- Have patience and avoid arguments. Give your loved one – and yourself – some slack. Take some time to make sure they get a chance to process what you’re saying. Avoid using condescending language or talking to your senior loved one like a child, and speak calmly. Don’t get into squabbles or debates about minor misunderstandings or miscues.
- Avoid distractions. Turn off the TV, turn off the stereo, place yourself directly in your loved one’s field of vision, and try to make sure the environment is as distraction-free as possible.
- Get creative and provide assistive devices. In some cases, it may help to try alternative ways of communicating. Playing a favorite song, writing notes, painting, sharing an iPad, passing photos back and forth – these can all be effective ways to get a senior to open up, and make communicating easier.
Looking for an Extra Set of Hands? Companions for Seniors Is Here to Help
As a family caregiver, it’s important to know when to reach out for help. Managing a senior loved one’s care plan can be a lot to handle on your own, particularly if your senior loved one is facing challenges with speaking, hearing, or communicating.
In these cases, home care provided by an experienced senior companion can be an invaluable resource for seniors, and the family caregivers who love and support them. A senior companion can help provide the personalized service and care a senior needs to live independently. At the same time, this companion is a friendly face, who can enrich a senior’s life by playing games, sharing meals, swapping stories, and always being there when it counts.
If you have an elderly loved one that you believe could benefit from the assistance of a professional companion, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of the professionals at Companions for Seniors.
At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships.
Our companions are trained and bonded, and can help provide a variety of services designed to help your loved one remain in the comfort of their own home. For our professional companions, communicating with the elderly and providing high quality care is a true passion. Our caregivers know the importance of spending time with, and actively listening to, our senior friends.
Have any more questions about fostering better communication between yourself and your aging loved ones? Interested in seeing what sets our home care services apart? Get in touch online today, or give us a call at 866-910-9020 to keep the conversation going.