Session 2: Non-verbal communication to address a good older person

Learning Outcomes

  • Become aware about peculiarity of elderly people; become aware about the existence of different methods / levels of communication
  • Be able to use different methodology of communication according to peculiarity of elderly people

Session Content


Communication must be targeted and diversified according to the person in front of you and their specific needs.

Communicating with an elderly person is therefore very different from communicating with a young colleague, an adult or a child.

The category of elderly people (together with children and disabled people) deserves a closer examination of the case, as it is a risk category with which to better target communication strategies.


Characteristics of the elderly person in the communication relationship

Even if they belong to a risk category, it is necessary first of all to overcome certain clichés that always see them as fragile, sick, confused, inactive people.

First of all, the general state of health must be considered (hearing, attention, sense of smell, memory, any medication in place, etc.).

Next, other peculiarities of the elderly person:

– Decreased adaptive capacity

– Less expertise in defending against external threats

– Slower recovery

– Lower levels of anxiety and shorter duration

– Emotional trauma acts deeper, emotionality is less visible, the elderly tends to suffer quietly, often refrain from asking for help.

– Tendency towards autonomy and self-sufficiency


Communication and behavioural strategies to be adopted

Following this, here are a number of strategies to adopt and avoid in order to build a positive communication environment with an elderly person.

When communicating with an older person, non-verbal communication is crucial because it is even more evident how important it is to consider not only the content – the WHAT? – but also the HOW, i.e. both the words used and the way in which they are spoken.

What to do

  • Do not communicate using metaphors but simple, clear language with consistent gestures
  • Keeping a calm, reassuring, courteous attitude
  • Controlling transfers and movements
  • Keeping dangerous objects away
  • Ensuring correct lighting
  • Helping to maintain independence in life activities
  • Explaining the non-verbal signals received from the elderly person to reassure him or clarify doubts; (e.g. inhaling, closing the lips, leaning forward, raising the head and looking for the gaze, wanting to speak, to have his say);
  • Being attentive and receptive
  • Keep our non-verbal communication active (nodding, friendly facial expressions, nods of understanding and attention);
  • Finding the right distance and verbalising the movements;
  • Leaning and orienting towards the patient, mirroring his postures and words;
  • Participative and welcoming look
  • Shaking hands, respectful contact

What not to do

  • Being loud and authoritarian or agitated and annoyed
  • Disqualifying the patient as an interlocutor
  • Being cold, not very participative
  • Not paying attention to overt and latent behaviour (emotional words and attitudes)
  • Do not be intrusive (modesty)
  • Being silent or mumbling during tactile examination or medical/nursing maneuvers
  • Cross your arms
  • Constantly leaning against the backrest and distant from it