The elderly often suffer from a wide variety of diseases, disorders, and/or conditions that may impact their ability to effectively communicate. For example, strokes, dementia, and head injuries often cause problems with communication, swallowing, behavior, organization, and problem solving. Individuals may exhibit the following behaviors if they have communication and/or cognitive problems:
Difficulty with getting someone else’s attention to express or communicate daily needs, inconsistency with accurately responding to questions, or even communicating needs related to emergency medical care.
Difficulty with appropriately managing and communicating emotions. Increased episodes of argumentative and inappropriate behavior.
Decreased awareness of personal safety and dangerous situations. Being more impulsive, tending to take action before thinking about consequences (e.g. trying to stand on a stool when his/her balance is bad). Increased episodes of falls and injuries related to falls.
Increased difficulty with managing personal care and/or hygiene, as well as meeting medical needs (e.g. taking daily medications, keeping up with visits to the doctor), and financial matters (e.g. paying bills).
A comprehensive Speech-Language Evaluation can determine if there is a language-based problem, or what the nature of the problem may be, and how best to address identified problems through treatment, and/or referrals to other health specialists.
What can Speech Therapy do?
Therapy can help to improve deficits related to attention, auditory processing, or mental organization through recommending and teaching strategies and techniques. Family/Caregiver Education and Training also help to ensure carryover of recommended strategies into the home environment. If results of the Speech-Language Evaluation indicate there are no speech or language deficits, other possible factors such as underlying medical problems may need to be considered. The primary care physician would be involved to assess and identify any medical issues, in order to provide appropriate treatment and/or referral to appropriate health specialists.
Communication problems with the elderly may be frustrating. It is important to remember that interacting with them, and engaging them in conversation are the best ways to respect this essential aspect of what it means to be a human being.
Tips for family members and caregivers to better communicate with geriatric individuals:
Reduce background noise such as the t.v., radio, or move to a quieter place.
Begin the conversation with casual topics such as the weather or what the person had for lunch.
Talk about familiar topics such as family members and special interests of the person.
Stick to a topic. Avoid quick shifts from topic to topic.
Keep sentences and questions short.
Give older persons a moment to reminisce. Their memories are important to them.
Allow extra time for responding. Don’t hurry them.
Give them choices to ease decision-making (e.g. “Do you want tea or coffee?” rather than “What do you want to drink?”).
Be an active listener. Look for hints from eye gaze and gestures. Take a guess (e.g. “Are you talking about the t.v. news? Yes, tell me more. I didn’t see it”).
What Our Patients and Families Say About Us!
“I almost lost my voice to Parkinson’s. I resigned myself to believing there was no hope for me. I told you in the beginning that I missed singing. You took me through this journey. It was very intense. But I made it! I have my singing voice. People no longer tell me that they can’t hear me. How can I ever thank you!”
“The care you provided to my father was excellent and highly professional. We were consistently informed of his progress. Our family training sessions were thorough, the information was just right, not overwhelming. By the time our Dad was discharged, we were confident that we could care for him! Mahalo nui!”
“My daughter started out just saying a few sounds, and within a few months, she progressed to short phrases. She used to be a very frustrated little girl because she couldn’t speak, but now she’s happy. We never thought we’d ever say that she talks too much! But now she does! Thank you!”