In today's world of fast paced communication, it is helpful to go back to basics and try to remember how our elders communicated back in the day. Communication is the critical factor in any good relationship and communicating effectively with the elderly can smooth many a rocky and frustrating relationship.
Our seniors lived in a time that was quiet and tranquil compared with today's frantic and lightning fast communications. There were no fax machines or computers. If you wanted to send a message, you sent a letter in the mail, known as snail mail today. If you needed to speak to someone urgently, you didn't send them a text or twitter message, and you got on the phone and had a long chat. You watched TV as a family and communicated with each in person by doing family orientated activities. Sitting down together to a lengthy family dinner comes to mind.
So now when we are so rushed in our daily lives, is it any wonder that our seniors seem distant and detached when you try to communicate with them? Below are five simple and basic rules in the art of engaging our seniors in effective communication.
1. Take a deep breath and put your own busy life on a hold a few minutes. Take the conscious effort to speak slowly and clearly. When you speak, look directly at the person you are speaking to. Many elderly people have hearing issues, whether they admit it or not, and you might be surprised at how many unconsciously "lip read" when they are listening to you.
2. Let the person feel that you have their undivided attention. Even if you are in a rush and have to pick up little Jimmy from school in fifteen minutes, avoid pacing, glancing at your watch or texting while they are conversing with you. They would prefer ten minutes of your undivided attention over half an hour with you looking like you would rather be anywhere but here with them.
3. Never rush your elderly parent. Take the time to slow down to their speed of comfort. When they were young, they could probably beat you in a race, but now they can only move safely at a much slower speed. Rushing them makes them more prone to falls and they feel agitated and distressed at being so slow. Pretend you have all the time in the world and break up outings over the course of a few days rather than trying to cram all errands into one session. Try to do some of their errands for them to minimize the length of time it takes to assist them with their outings.
4. Sometimes the best communication is silent communication. If there is some reason that verbal communication is difficult, as in a deaf parent or one with Alzheimer's, try doing a task or hobby together. There are special puzzles you can get which have large pieces with adult themes, called "puzzles to remember" which are very good. Good quality time together does not have to involve complicated verbal exchange.
5. Finally the most important one. Never presume you know what the other person is thinking or feeling. Avoid finishing off sentences for them, changing the subject or switching the TV channel without asking. If your loved one is unusually quiet and doesn't want to talk, give them time and let them know that you are there to listen when they are ready talk. Be ready to really listen and watch body language as well to pick up on what they are truly feeling.
When the elderly feel they can trust you, that you truly are there for them and that you are not simply paying them lip service, they will open up and engage more. No one wants to feel like a square peg in a round hole, but sadly that is the way our seniors often feel in the strange world we live in today. It is no wonder so many seniors battle along alone, refusing help from well meaning family and friends.