10 Tips for Nurses to Effectively Communicate with Elderly Patients

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Effective communication facilitates positive patient outcomes. [1] When caring for senior patients, this might involve providing for certain issues. Older patients may have multiple conditions, such as hearing loss, vision impairment, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, providers may have to address sensitive topics, such as end-of-life care.

When treating the elderly, it’s important not to make assumptions about patients’ abilities and to take time to understand the conditions and circumstances that are unique to each client; patients may or may not suffer from age related impairments. While the following ten tips might appear time-consuming, they can produce significant long-term returns in positive patient outcomes.

Tip 1: Start with the Right Body Language

A seated position directly opposite the patient improves communication by reducing distractions and sending the message that the care provider has focused on the client completely. [2] Maintaining eye contact is also important, because this commands their attention and helps patients to decipher facial cues.

Tip 2: Exercise Patience

Care providers must exercise patience when treating seniors. Sometimes, providers have to repeat talking points several times before the patient fully understands the message. If communicating requires too much repetition, care providers should slow their speech down and speak clearer until the client can understand. Older patients may also take longer to react during conversation.

Tip 3: Show Proper Respect

While many have heard the phrase “respect your elders,” the sentiment proves indispensable during treatment. Providers should remember that elder clients may have differing opinions about contemporary topics. It’s important to acknowledge the varied experiences offered by seniors. This recognition can help to bridge generational gaps during communication.

Tip 4: Practice Active Listening

When treating seniors, it’s important to actively listen to their dialogue and remember that both parties may have difficulty expressing ideas to each other. Care providers should also use body language, such as affirmative nods, to acknowledge receipt of communications without interrupting the client. If the care provider cannot understand a patient’s dialogue, they should ask clarifying questions.

Tip 5: Build Rapport

To build patient rapport, health organizations must make sure that all personnel create positive interactions. [3] This starts with each employee that encounters clients properly introducing themselves and finding out patients’ name preferences. Voicing clients’ preferred name several times creates an air of familiarity and sets the groundwork for patients to participate in wellness planning. Strong rapport also leaves clients with a positive overall impression of the organization.

Tip 6: Show Sincerity
During visits, care providers should ask appropriate questions about clients’ living conditions and social circles. [4] It’s critical that care providers understand the role that a client’s culture and beliefs play in treatment. This understanding facilitates shared decision-making. In addition to cultural literacy, it’s important to avoid ageist assumptions when offering recommendations.

Tip 7: Recognize Sensory Challenges

Distractions, such as accompanying caregivers, cognitive impairments, or hearing loss, can make communication difficult. [5] Nearly one-third of seniors over sixty-five have hearing issues and a quarter of seniors over seventy-five report vision problems.

Ailments affect each patient differently and in varying degrees. It’s important that care providers keep these conditions in context.

Tip 8: Ensure Comfort

Physical comfort is important for both patients and their family members. [6] Alleviating physical discomfort reduces distractions during treatment. Maintaining comfort for elder patients can prove difficult, especially for those with multiple illnesses. Care providers can ensure patient comfort with simple gestures, such as offering a blanket or sweater to cold clients.

Tip 9: Use Plain Language

As patients grow older, their physiology changes considerably. [7] Elder clients may start to lose their hearing, sight, short-term, or long-term memory and this changes the way they absorb and process information. Using plain language makes it easier for senior clients to understand new concepts.

ip 10: Show Empathy

Sincere empathy builds rapport. [8] Patients should feel as though care providers understand and identify with their concerns. To communicate this sentiment, staff members can relate how they would feel given similar circumstances when communicating undesirable information. Such honest and open communication shows that care providers recognize client difficulties and genuinely care about patient circumstances.

Communication breakdowns can produce counterproductive outcomes or cause treatment to fail altogether. [9] Care providers will treat older patients more frequently as more consumers live well past sixty-five. By treating each senior as an individual, care providers can dissolve ageist stereotypes and produce positive outcomes.

Learn More

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Recommended Readings

Best Practices to Promote Cultural Awareness

How Nurse Practitioners Can Become Community Advocates


[1] National Institute on Aging

[2] We Have Kids

[3] Practical Dermatology –

[4] The Gerontological Society of America – Communicating with Older Adults
[5] American Society on Aging

[6] Gebauer Company

[7] The Midland Group