When caring for senior patients, effective communication is a necessity for positive outcomes. Elderly patients may have conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s, vision impairment, hearing loss, etc. So, the better you understand them in terms of conditions and circumstances, the better you will be able to communicate with them.
Out of 23,000 malpractice cases filed between 2009 and 2013, 30% of the cases had communication as a major factor. Moreover, about 37% of high-severity cases consisted of communication failure. It was all mentioned in a 2015 report from CRICO Strategies.
Following are some tips for caregivers to effectively communicate with elderly patients:
Right Body Language is Important
Being a caregiver, you should start with the right body language. For example, sitting directly opposite to your senior patient will reduce any distractions, improving communication naturally. You should exhibit confidence; it will make your patient think that you are entirely focused on them. Good eye contact also plays a vital role as it can command their attention and help them decrypt your facial expressions if needed.
Give Your Older Patients Some Extra Time
According to different studies, older patients are neglected and receive less information from physicians as compared to younger patients, where they want more information from their physician. Older patients require additional time because they desire more information and lack in communication and focus. The better you plan your communication and put your interest in it, the better the older patients will feel comfortable talking to you.
Otherwise, they will sense that you are not interested and shut down, making it nearly impossible for you to make effective communication with them.
Address Elderly Patients Formally To Show Respect
Everyone loves being respected. You can use “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” “Ms.,” etc. unless you have been asked by the senior to call him by some other name.
Patience is the Key
Sometimes you might have to repeat your points several times before your patient completely understands the message, hence you will require a lot of patience for this. If you are repeating the same thing too much, but your communication is going nowhere, you should slow down and speak clearly so he can understand you.
Also, elderly patients may take a bit longer to react during the conversation – you should give them some extra time so they can get your message and respond at their pace accordingly.
Your elderly patients want to feel that you are giving them undivided attention, and they are important for you. According to research, if you spend quality time with an elderly patient and give them undivided attention in the first 60 seconds, you can create a good impression that ‘a meaningful amount of time was spent with them.’
When possible, you should remove the amount of auditory and visual distractions such as other people, loud background noise, music, fans, computers, etc.
Your Elderly Patient Might Have Hearing Impairments
The patient you are taking care of may have hearing impairments, so what you should do to address them adequately is by speaking in a clear voice and not rushing what you want to say. You should avoid shouting because it may distort your voice and make you challenging for them to understand.
Maintain good eye contact with your patient while you talk to him/her so he/she can see your lips movement and watch for visual clues.
Your Elderly Patient Might Have Vision Impairments
If your patient has difficulty seeing, you should make sure that his living space and common places are well lit. Encourage him to use his glasses when walking around in the house to avoid any accident.
Establish a Good Rapport with Your Patient
It is important to establish a good relationship with your patient, especially when you are their caregiver. The process of building a good rapport with your elderly patient starts by making sure that you create positive interactions with him. Ask him for the name’s preference. If he prefers that you call him by his name, that’s good; you should, because it will create familiarity and will encourage him to participate in wellness planning.
Avoid Language that Includes Ageist Stereotypes or is viewed as Patronizing/Disrespectful
Although you might speak such statements unintentionally, they can negatively affect your impression and communication with your elderly patient. You should carefully consider your wording according to the individual and situation.
Avoid Jargons, Use Simple Sentences and Words
Again, the better the patient understands the message, the better he will be able to communicate with you. To ensure that your patient follows your instructions, you shouldn’t use jargons and complex words. Also, don’t just assume that your patient will understand even the basic technical or medical term. What you should do is make sure that you only use familiar and comfortable words that your patient might already know.
Respect Your Patient’s Emotions and Respond with Empathy
Older adults go through a lot of challenging situations throughout the day associated with aging, and they may experience things like fear, uncertainty, anger, anxiety, apathy, etc. You should acknowledge and respect these emotions, show compassion, empathy, so your patient can feel comfortable with you, enhancing overall communication.
Don’t Confuse the Patient – Stick To One Topic at A Time
Overloaded information can confuse your patient. Avoid using long, detailed explanation – if you want, try it in an outline form. This allows the patient to understand important information in a series of steps. For example, if you want to tell the patient about taking care of his blood pressure, you should break the topic into three parts: first, talk about blood pressure; second, talk about how it can harm him; and third, finally talk about treating it.
Make Use of Visual Aid
Visual aid such as pictures, charts, and models can help the patient better understand their condition and treatment, hence making it convenient for you to convey information to them in the best way.
Summarize the Most Important Points
When in communication with your elderly patient, make sure to ask him to repeat your instructions, just to see if he is getting your points or not. If still, you think that the patient is not clear on what you are trying to tell him, you can repeat the information again but in a summarized way so he can recall what you said previously.
Consider The Patient’s Cultural Beliefs and Values
When communicating with your patient, you should take care of his cultural beliefs and values, so you don’t hurt his sentiments, even unintentionally. Although it is quite difficult to have proper knowledge of one’s culture, you can still develop a basic understanding of his norms and beliefs that can lead to effective communication.
A caregiver should know all the tips and ways to talk effectively with elderly patients because they are sensitive, and anything can hurt them. If a caregiver knows how to communicate with them, he can easily treat and ask them to follow any instruction. For example, if you want the senior to take his medicines on time without resisting it, you can politely ask him to do so repetitively instead of getting angry when he resists even several times.