GSA’s “Communicating With Older Adults”


As a member of The Gerontological Society of America (GSA), I see a lot of great research and work products being developed by members of that organization.  This week, I received a new publication from GSA, called “Communicating With Older Adults: An Evidence-Based Review of What Really Works”. 

The title sounds a bit pretentious, as much academic stuff tends to — including my own, in a prior life 🙂 — but there are quite a few excellent insights for those of us working in the world of elder care.  The publication is obviously aimed first at clinical health care providers, which is great, but it has meaning and substantive lessons for all of us.

Communicating With Older Adults

I say that the fact that the document is aimed at doctors and nurses is great, because the level of geriatric knowledge among doctors is lower than we would like to see.  The level of gerontological knowledge is even lower, unfortunately.

That does not mean we do not meet geriatric specialists who knock our socks off, in our neck of the woods.  Dr. Michael McCloud, of the University of California at Davis, comes readily to mind, who has provided superb care to a number of our patients / clients.  We just hope the number of geriatricians continues to grow as rapidly as the aging population.

In the meantime, having all clinical providers — and the rest of us — better educated is communicating and working with older adults is a very good thing.

We do not have the space to talk about all of the tips provided by the GSA publication, but here are a few highlights.  For each tip, the document actually goes into significant detail, so you may want to check out the Website for reprints – only $8.

Some tips:

  • Recognize the tendency to stereotype older adults, then conduct your own assessment.  In other words, every senior is a person, an individual, not an assembly line product.  I am tempted to say “Duh,” except that I have seen too much of just that.
  • Monitor and control your nonverbal behavior.  Nonverbal communication constitutes an amazingly high percentage of what we actually do communicate to others.  For folks with dementia, their recognition of nonverbal messages is accentuated.
  • Include older adults in the conversation even if their companion is in the room.  Boy, have we seen this problem!  At Support For Home Health Care, we have so many stories of our caregiver or a family member attending a meeting with a doctor, only to have the doctor direct every question to the caregiver!
  • To provide quality health care, focus on enhancing patient satisfaction.  Two doctors can provide exactly the same diagnosis, prognosis and prescriptions.  The one who has a positive impact on the older patient, in particular, is the one who satisfies the patients needs emotionally, as well.
  • Avoid speaking slowly to older adults with dementia.  For many folks, this is counter-intuitive.  Perhaps the easiest way to think about it is that folks with dementia are not slower than other seniors.  Rather, one of the problems they face is reduced short-term memory.

There are many more tips and good elaborations of each in the publication.  I recommend it, even if you do not drag the letters M and D around after your name. 🙂

Best wishes.  Bert

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