I am pretty fluent in “elderspeak”: my term for the language of what matters to the elderly (the much-older adult). As a Gerontologist, a social scientist who studies research, trends and the promotion of successful aging specific to ages 60 and above, I know that much-older adults respond better, both professionally and personally, to some approaches than others. Fortunately, there are a growing number of professionals out there to assist families and individuals in using compassion and common sense as loved ones age and their needs change.
Whether you are caring for aging parents or new to the Aging Marketplace, here are a few of my Successful Strategies in Elderspeak. These recommendations have their foundations in the biology, psychology, sociology, lifespan development and ethics of Aging coursework and in my many years of experience with older adults. Use them when working with, or for, elderly:
Slow down. Think quickly, but speak slowly. Response time, both physically and mentally, is a little slower for elderly, but not necessarily of lesser quality. That is also important to remember when deciding how to approach your family members/clients: they have “been around the block” more often than their younger counterparts, so don’t assume they can’t keep up with you when you are explaining your policies and procedures.
Say what you mean. Your older adult might not have understood what you meant. Since the elderly come from a different generation than most of us do, their “dictionary” could be a little different than yours, in the sense of how you are phrasing things. Terms and technology change quickly these days. Ask your family member/client if you are making sense to her/him, and if need be, re-phrase until she/he clearly understands you.
Ask the elder to repeat it. Always a great idea in any communication exercise, but especially helpful with much-older adults. You will get a first-hand lesson in what your family member/client has translated your message into. Also, being from a very respect-oriented generation, he/she might not have assertively communicated his/her preferences to you. Their respect for your family/professional status might put them off from pressing harder.
Remember that the issues of respect, losses, and wisdom are important. Aging brings along with it a desire to complete one’s lifework. Youth has fallen away, careers have receded, and children have universes of their own. Life becomes quieter. Offer work that takes into account those parameters, realize that respect is the greater part of their dignity, and give consideration to the chronic losses of old age. Be honoring.
©Di Patterson, MSG, CPG “If good real estate is about location, location, location, then ‘success in aging’ is about attitude, attitude, attitude!” http://dipatterson.com/