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7 Tips for Communicating with older adults

Change is the one experience that is common to all of us around the globe. No matter our life’s circumstances, we will all experience the changes of aging. Did you know that our communication skills will change along with some more observable signs of aging, such as wrinkles and strong opinions? Perhaps you have noticed the speech, language, memory, voice and swallowing skills of a beautiful older adult in your life begin to change over more recent months or years.

Some factors that may precipitate a more sudden change in our loved-ones communication skills include a stroke or other neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia. Of course, hearing loss is also a contributing factor, with most adults over 65 years experiencing a measurable decrease in their hearing.

Here are 7 tips for communicating with an older adult in your life who has experienced some communication impairment

1. Find time to communicate and connect regularly.

Quality communication takes time. Older adults with a communication impairment are not always ready to jump into your conversation. Authentic communication happens when we are intentional. Set aside time for conversations, so you have the right mindset and are relaxed and prepared to listen and speak.

2. Choose the right environment

The right environment supports clear communication. Particularly when you are facing a critical discussion, choose your location carefully. Clear communication can happen when the environment is:

  • Quiet

  • Comfortable so that everyone is relaxed

  • Well lit

  • Free of distractions such as noise and excessive busyness in the surrounding environment

  • Sensory aids, such as hearing aids and glasses, are in place and working.

3. Sit and make eye contact

Sitting and making eye contact is a courtesy for all communication, not just when speaking with older people. Sitting face-to-face indicates that you are ready and prepared to listen. It will also ensure that you are most likely to be speaking clearly and in a manner that suits your conversation.

4. Use greetings and appropriate touch to connect

A gesture can often convey so much more than words. Appropriate touch can express our presence in the moment, our warmth of feeling towards the other person, and it is a sign that we are engaging on a personal level. Positive touch makes us feel loved and valued. This is so important when we want to engage and communicate with older adults in our life.

5. Draw on the person’s life history, interests and familiar topics

Older adults are wrapped in a lifetime of experiences, stories and history. Talking about the familiar is always the best place to start. It will indicate that you are prepared to listen and learn and take the time to connect personally with them. Familiar stories and topics of conversations will give the other person a safe starting point for your communication.

6. Speak slowly and clearly and stick to the topic

We are often so quick to speak, moving from one topic to another. When communicating with older adults, take the time to slow down. Remember that speaking slowly will enhance your speech’s clarity, and sticking to the topic will ensure they remain engaged, feeling empowered in your conversation.

7. Watch out for non-verbal cues that may indicate communication has broken down

Check in to make sure that your message is clear and understandable. Look for engaged body language, seek clarification, ask questions. Older adults with a communication impairment may need you to repeat essential information. Summarise and write down important points so they can refer back to them later.

By 2050 there will be more than 1.8 million adults over the age of 85 living in Australia. Speech pathologists support older adults with communication and swallowing impairments. Newcastle Speech Pathology can provide assessment and intervention for all communication and swallowing skills. We help clients and their families access information and communication environments to promote inclusion and participation in life. We can recommend communication techniques and technology or assistive communication devices to ensure that older adults can communicate effectively.


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