- Being able to explain the basic principles of good communication and having knowledge about the importance of communication and especially good communication
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 tend to suffer quietly, often refrain from asking for help.
- Tendency towards autonomy and self-sufficiency
Communication and behavioural strategies to be adopted
Following on from this, here are a number of strategies to adopt and avoid in order to build a positive communication environment with the 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? -as well as 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 manoeuvre;
- Cross your arms;
- Constantly leaning against the backrest and distant from it
A final fundamental consideration when dealing with an older person is to assess the social network and support around the person.
Try to solve the following quiz about Schulz von Thun’s communication model. Can you remember everything?
Take a look at the poster. Here, Schulz von Thun’s communication model is repeated again. Furthermore, a critical view of this model is given.
Read through the two reflection questions and try to answer them. There is no right or wrong way to answer the questions.