10 Tips for Talking with Older Adults


Are you searching for ways to help residents better understand you in face-to-face conversations?

Here are 10 ways to improve your message, summarized from my training programs for retirement communities:

  1. Don’t talk too fast. Many retirement community staffers are younger and speak as if they were talking to their same-age friends. Remember: their ability to get what you are saying is in direct proportion to how complex the information is. Speak more slowly without appearing to be patronizing.
  2. Use your hands. Normal gestures can help them understand. Take a cue from how residents and their older visitors communicate with their hands.
  3. Control the setting. Use a well-lit area. Sit face-to-face, if you can, not off to one side or the other. As you know, hearing and vision declines increase with aging. The person may be lip-reading, especially prevalent with older males.
  4. No quick movements which can interfere with attention. Even if you’re under time pressure and may be apt to rush what you are saying, stifle the urge. Unnecessary movements also may send a message that you may be out of control. Don’t glance at your wristwatch. It signals that you have other things to do. Better to say: “We have another few minutes, let’s cover the following.”
  5. Speak in a slightly louder tone. But, don’t shout. Choose common, everyday words in place of technical words. Enunciate words clearly. Stay in a logical sequence; avoid distracting conversation. The person may not be hearing all the words but may understand by the context of your words.
  6. Repeat or paraphrase. Keep hands away from your mouth when speaking because it could muffle words. Don’t change the topic abruptly.
  7. Explain abstract concepts, using examples from their lives. It’s best if you relate to events and things they remember.
  8. Use words that strengthen their sense of independence. All in all, they want to remain independent. They want to make their own decisions, if possible.
  9. Repeat your questions. Do so, if it appears they don’t get what it is you are asking for.
  10. Continue to go back to the basic points you want to make. Re-enforcing your points frequently helps their understanding, aids recall and overcomes memory loss. It’s also helpful to use their own words as they respond to yours.