If you have an older grandparent you’re particularly close to, you likely know what it takes to communicate effectively with them. Chances are, you simply alter your communication a little – speaking clearly if they’re hard of hearing or avoiding complicated conversations if they have memory issues - and carry on with your relationship. When working with geriatric patients, you can apply a similar approach.
Understanding how to communicate with the elderly is vital as the nursing field is going to need nurses to work with geriatric patients. That’s because our country is aging. By 2040, the share of the population over 65 will be about 20% of the population. That’s nearly double what it was in 2000. Geriatric patients are a special population with specific needs. How can you connect with your elderly patients? Often, that comes down to taking time for good communication. Here are some tips for connecting and communicating with this growing cohort of patients.
Be respectful. Your older patients come from another era. They might prefer to be addressed as Mr., Mrs., or Ms. Ask them what they prefer. Some regions and cultures are more formal than others, so it’s better not to assume.
Show interest. Many elderly patients are well aware they’re not keeping up with modern norms, but they don’t like feeling irrelevant. They’ve lived a long and interesting life, and they still have something to contribute. Many older adults are sensitive to being treated like children, so talk to them like they’re adults—because they are.
Adjust for their hearing. Half of older adults over 75 have pronounced hearing loss. When you speak with your elderly patients, face them, speak clearly, and don’t rush your words. Avoid shouting, however, as it may make you difficult to understand. If you can, try to avoid talking with lots of background noise and distractions. It’s difficult for some older adults to comfortably follow a conversation thread.
Consider their cognitive abilities. Some patients are coping with dementia in varying degrees. Talking about medical conditions or medications may need to include their families.
Explain things clearly. Elderly adults don’t pick up on things as quickly as a younger person will, so it’s important to explain things clearly and simply. Try to avoid medical terms they don’t understand.
Try not to rush. Nurses are busy people, but treating an elderly patient in a rushed way can cause confusion and stress. They may have trouble taking in too much information all at once. If you’re able to take time with them, you’ll gain their confidence and trust. That helps you too.
Are you interested in becoming a nurse and working with elderly adults? To take the first step toward your nursing career, visit St. Paul’s School of Nursing program page or call (855) 822-3018 to speak to one of our admissions representatives or to schedule a campus tour. St. Paul’s has campuses in Queens and Staten Island.