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Communicating With The Elderly

Communicating With The Elderly When It Is Not Easy. 

Well that was awkward!

Communicating with the elderly can be hard. Watching a great grandson or estranged child walk the halls of an assisted living facility for a visit only to see them leave 5 min later at a quick pace, it’s hard. What happened?  Was Grandpa sleeping and they are going to come back later? Were they saddened or in shock at a recent or not so recent decline of Grandma that they were unaware of?  Did they say Hello only to be greeted by “who are you?”  Was there guilt over not visiting for a very long time? There are many reasons visits don’t go as planned.  Going in prepared can help you both get the most out of your visit.

Be Informed!

Get as much information as possible before you go in.  This might mean calling a family member you don’t know well, but asking questions about your loved ones current mental status will save you the embarrassment of yelling “My name is K-E-L-L-Y, your great grand daughter” only to have them scoff and yell back “No kidding! ” and they proceed to tell you many details of your life even you forgot.  Not everyone in an assisted living facility struggles cognitively.   Ask about their health and any recent events that may have happened or subjects to avoid.

Go In Curious!

Genuine curiosity makes for the most delightful and or interesting conversations.  I will attach a list of questions everyone should have the answers to for future generations. There are lots of lists on the internet of similar questions, I tweaked this one a bit based off my own experiences.  Be honest what your are doing.  Tell them you want generations to come to know who they were and as you ask the questions, SHARE your answers from your own life experiences with them.  Then it feels much more like a conversation and will aid in easing your fears. 


Be prepared to repeat yourself for some older folks, a lot.  The key is not to say, “I just told you that” or “did you forget, we already covered that when I first got here”  There is a lot I can say about this subject but to stay on task I will just state that it’s time to live in their world not to bring them into your own.  Their world now involves forgetting often possibly and reminding them of it could anger, embarrass or scare them.  Just smile and answer again.

Play A Game!

Depending on ability level, play a game of talk and toss.  Blow up a beach ball and in marker write questions in large print all over it like “favorite actor, favorite song, favorite pet” as the ball is caught, they have to answer what ever question their thumb lands on.  This is a great one to do if Grandma or Grandpa are sitting in a common area often and you want to involve others. But it’s a game, so that means you have to catch and answer as well.

Don’t bring distractions even if they are cute.  If a connection truly is desired, hold off on bringing the very active 4 year old on the first visit. Or, have someone come along that can bring them out of the room if they begin to become disruptive so you may continue your visit.  Remember, it is never the staffs job to watch over little ones.  Sending them off unattended into common areas is frowned upon.

Silence Is Golden

Be ok with silence.  If the pacing on conversation is not possible at this visit, enjoy being present. Make mental notes of what the room looks like, photos on the wall, how her hair is done just like she likes, or of the birds visiting her feeders.  Silence is ok. Stay.

If your loved one has a white board in their room, leave a note for them to read and re-read while you are gone.  Even a simple, “It was great seeing you today!  Love your nephew Jeff”  If they can’t read it, every person who enters that room can and will most likely bring it up in conversation, extending the good feelings you brought with you on your visit.

Don’t Forget The Details!

Before you leave, offering to hang a photo of yourself or your family with your name written clearly on the front on their refrigerator is a kind gesture and a wonderful conversation starter for your next visit.

When real curiosity, some pre-primed information and a great photo of yourself are prepared before your visit, things are bound to go well.  This is also great dating advice.  (do not give them a photo of yourself….that was a joke)
A wonderful idea is to work with them to fill out this activity form!
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