Tips on Talking to Older People 

Often, we make some mistakes in normal dealings with older people. These mistakes either make the person feel like a baby or child or else somewhat alone or shunned.  There are some actions we can do to make the person feel better—they don’t cost anything and they’re easy to implement.

The first mistake is assuming that the older person hears as well as you do.  An older person may have begun to experience hearing loss.  S/he may not know it or s/he may know it and not acknowledge it.  You should speak slowly and clearly in a regular tone of voice and see if the person you’re talking to responds.  If you’re not getting a suitable response, ask the person directly whether s/he can hear you.  Ask if one ear is better than another and then move yourself to that side.  Ask the person if hearing is clearer.

Next, when you talk to a person who may be having some hearing difficulties, try lowering your pitch a bit.  Older people often have difficulties hearing higher pitched voices, including female voices.  But don’t yell. You don’t want to scare the person and/or trigger some bad memories.

Also, when you’re talking to the person, try not to use baby words or words which the person may find offensive, such as words like, “sweetie,” “darling,” “honey”; also don’t us phrases such as: “Now, let’s…..”   or “We must do this….”  Even a person with severe physical difficulties may feel as if you’re talking down to them.  They may get angry and/or depressed and withdraw.

Another tip: if it’s permissible, hold his/her hand when you’re talking to them.  People who are older often feel invisible, or even worse—they feel that they’ve become someone people don’t want to touch.  Reach out and touch their skin, even if it may feel a little awkward for you.  Older people can enjoy the contact and the connection!

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