Importance of Communication When Caring for the Elderly

Working with the elderly as an administrator or director of an elder care facility requires many communication skills. Not only do you communicate with the patients under your care, but also with their families, the facility staff and their referring physicians.

Developing these skills is one of the benefits of earning a bachelor’s degree in long term care administration. The degree program provides training and practice in effective ways to communicate with everyone involved in an older adult’s care.

Communicating With the Elderly

Stereotypes about aging and old age can interfere with effective communication. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) points out that research shows aging alone does not cause illness, pain and discomfort. The NIA states, “The problem is the problem; age is not the problem.”

You want to be aware of stereotypical language. The International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) lists some stereotypical words to avoid, such as aged, codger and grandmotherly. The ICAA also recommends avoiding phrases such as “He looks good for his age,” “Even older adults can…,” and “... is active even at that age.”

Some 60-year-olds are frail and sickly while some 80-year-olds are healthy and active. You need to approach each person as an individual. Find the appropriate ground to give a person the opportunity to ask questions and express concerns, desires and other matters.

Some of the NIA’s suggestions for communicating with older adults include:

  • Don’t rush.
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Use active listening skills.
  • Show empathy.
  • Avoid jargon.
  • For people with visual and/or hearing deficits, make adjustments to accommodate their circumstances.

Another factor is developing the skills to communicate with those who have cognitive difficulties. You need patience and the ability to explain issues in multiple ways.

Communicating With Families

When you are working with the elderly, communication with family members is just as important as interaction with the older adult.

Two studies found that families identified a number of communication problems when a family member lived in a nursing home. Patients and their families did not receive enough information. Clinical staff made changes to the patient’s treatment plan without consulting the family. Other issues included high turnover rates and poor communication between staff members. Patients and their families also felt that their caregivers did not have time to talk—about clinical and other topics.

Communicating With Staff and Medical Providers

As the administrator of an elder care facility, you have the responsibility of creating an environment that promotes communication between staff and families. Important factors include letting the staff know of expectations, training the staff in effective communication and getting feedback from both staff and families. You set the tone for the staff.

A bachelor’s degree in long term care administration gives you the skills to manage and communicate with staff. The degree also provides you with a basic understanding of the American healthcare system and the medical terminology to interact with medical providers. This communication is important to ensure that your staff understands the physician’s instructions to make sure the elderly receive the best care.

Working with the elderly can be rewarding. An important part of this work is communicating with the elderly, their families and their care providers. You can get a step up on training offered by a specialized bachelor’s degree.

Learn more about the LSUA online BS in Long Term Care program.

Sources: Talking With Your Older Patient: A Clinician's Handbook

ICAA’s Guidelines for effective communication with older adults

PubMed: We're on the same side: improving communication between nursing home and family.

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