As we age, our communication skills change. For family members and caregivers, knowing how a senior hears and understands is vital. Just because we speak clearly does not mean that our messages are received correctly. Learning the language of aging requires conscious effort on our part.
First, we must understand whom it is we are talking WITH not TO. There is a huge difference between those two words. When we’re not aware of our elder’s abilities to understand, we cease to communicate. We go from speaking WITH someone (interactive communication) to speaking TO someone (ordering, scolding and begging).
Another vital step is to understand that elders often have a different sense urgency than we do. The language of aging is a slower language. In contrast, our language of life is one of speed, of stress, of trying to get the work done on time. Dad! If we miss this appointment we can’t get another one for 6 weeks! To you, this means rescheduling not just the appointment but also everything else that’s going on in your life. To Dad, however, spending time with you, enjoying a cup of coffee and chatting might be more important than seeing his doctor just to hear more about his failing body.
Of utmost importance is to allow elders to maintain as much control as possible. Let elders determine what is priority. Let them choose the speed of conversation and activities. While we’re rushing around to make sure that they’re receiving the right care, the right food — they may be wishing we would stop and spend time with them. When you look deeper into our elder’s world, you may realize that spending a little more time in the garden to smell the flowers and catch the sunset’s glow — even it means dinner gets cold — is more important.
“Let’s talk, not tell. Let’s communicate.”
The Caregiver Foundation