Five Tips for Dealing with Comprehension Issues of Community Residents


Verbal comprehension issues are frequent, especially between younger associates and community residents who are 30, 40, or 50 years older. Many of those attending my training sessions raise this issue. Once the staff understands how to deal with the comprehension issue, they report back significant improvement in face-to-face communications.

When it’s apparent to you that prospects and residents don’t understand what you’ve just said, the following five tips help you handle the situation.

Tip #1. Find another way to say the same thing. When you determine that an older resident doesn’t get what you are saying, your natural tendency may well be to repeat the same words….only louder. While that can work at times, there are several alternatives. Restate what you’re saying using different words. You can substitute words that relate to the older person’s background and experience, such as “Remember when you used to do this…or do that.” Avoid jargon, especially words that relate to a much younger generation.

Tip #2. Slow down your rate of speaking. Talking too fast is a problem for seniors, even though it’s more natural for younger people, especially with friends their same age. While you should speak more slowly, don’t slow it down so much that the recipient might get the idea that you are patronizing them. You also can increase comprehension by shortening your sentences so it’s easier for your older residents. Observe what other associates do, both good and bad. Ask them to critique your rate of speaking.

Tip #3. Minimize background noise, whenever possible. Ambient or background sounds interfere with older adults hearing. Whether they are institutional sounds – internal pages for staff personnel, announcements of events, community television, music, others nearby talking loudly, you should try to reduce them if you can. Be aware that hearing loss affects more people than vision loss. Often, they deny they are experiencing hearing loss. However, one in three persons over age 65 experiences hearing loss. By age 80, the numbers are closer to nine out of 10.

Tip #4. Face up to the person you are speaking with. Try to get into a position with them, face-to-face. Avoid speaking to them from one side or another, unless you have determined that they have reduced hearing ability. Look directly at the person. Let them see your lips as you are speaking. Many are lip-readers, or rely on getting the words by hearing and seeing you pronounce the words. Emphasize words by enunciating clearly. This makes it easier for the person to hear, and you can observe clues of any hearing deficits. If the person turns away or appears to be distracted, pause and wait until he or she looks back again.

Tip #5. Provide hand signals. You can let them know by light touches or providing visual signals like pointing or gesturing in some way. Underline points of emphasis effectively with hand signals.

It’s not only your senior adults that may have hearing issue. Aging baby boomers have a high incidence of hearing loss because they are part of a culture that turned up the amplifiers. Now, several decades later, they are experiencing hearing decline.

Men tend to experience the beginnings of hearing loss at an earlier age than women, and a male's hearing loss is greatest at the higher frequency level while a female's loss tends to be at the lower level of the range of sounds.