Tips for effective communication with the elderly

Tips for effectively communicating with the elderly

People who pursue a career in nursing might find themselves working at a nursing home with the elderly. Because very old adults can experience difficulty expressing their needs, nursing home staff should try to cultivate a manner of compassionately and effectively communicating with their patients. The cause of such difficulty can be from physical disability, cognitive deterioration, or because of some type of medication or treatment. Nurses should try to remember that effective communication begins with sincere understanding of a patient's situation and a compassionate attitude. With quality communication techniques, patients can be reassured, freed of fear, and feel involved in their healing and care.  Here are some tips to help you maintain good communication in your nursing home:

Be aware of body language
A large percentage of communication is nonverbal. You might be saying something positive, but your body could be communicating a negative message. Consider positioning yourself at eye level before you begin speaking with a patient. Try to talk with a cheerful disposition. If you experience a patient that is frustrated or in a state of confusion, calmly respond to the emotion that they are physically expressing.

Avoid jargon
In a nursing home facility, patients are surrounded by medical staff and health care professionals - doctors, nurses, physical therapists, nutritionists, etc. - who are constantly using medical jargon with their colleagues. It is easy for them to forget that many clients are not professionals with medical backgrounds. Patients might find it difficult to follow the language used by the physician or nursing staff, which could negatively affect their health. When conversing with an older person, try to put the diagnosis or treatment plan in language they can understand. Ask them if they have any questions or if they would like the information to be explained in a different way for clarity. If using medical jargon is an absolute necessity, the terms should be identified and explained right away in order to avoid any confusion.

Eliminate assumptions
One of the biggest mistakes all nurses make when communicating with their patients is assuming that they have a certain disability. Instead of approaching a person with the preconceived notion that they are hard of hearing or experiencing dementia, first communicate with them as if they have no issues with hearing or comprehension. As you continue to hold a conversation, you can make necessary adjustments .

This article is sponsored by Western Governors University, a nonprofit, accredited, online university. WGU offers online RN to BSN, BSN to MSN, and RN to MSN degree programs to working nurses who already have a current RN license. To find out more, please visit

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