Communicating with Seniors

April 19, 2016

Tips for Effectively Communication with Seniors

Effective communication requires you to tailor your message to your audience. This is especially important when communicating with seniors. Oftentimes we treat them differently because of our flawed notion of how age might affect someone. There are common mistakes we all make, and missteps that agents should take care to avoid when meeting with seniors to discuss health plans and coverage.

Not so loud

Seniors also often complain that people talk to them loudly for no apparent reason. Not every older person suffers from hearing loss. So enunciate well and speak at your normal volume. If they ask you to repeat something you said, don’t treat it as an invitation to shout it out.


Back off on ‘elderspeak’

Age comes with a lot of stereotypes, and we often fall prey to them. For example, we have a tendency to address seniors with patronizing language, unnecessarily simplified words or voice modulations that we’d use with children. For example, we might use “sweetie” or “dear” or talk in a high-pitched voice. Such “elderspeak” is usually taken as an insult. It seems obvious, but you might not even realize you do it.

In its informative report “Communicating With Older Adults”, The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) says you don’t need to change your vocabulary to use simplified words:

As a general rule, older adults maintain their existing vocabulary or continue to improve it. They have no greater problem understanding complicated words than do members of other age groups, so there is no need to simplify the words you use.

The GSA report recommends the following tips for improving face-to-face communication with older adults:

Monitor and control your nonverbal behavior

Nonverbal communication encompasses eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, speech rate, speech volume, body positioning, use of space, and other behaviors. The nonverbal behaviors that you do or do not exhibit when interacting with older adults can have a profound impact on both your effectiveness in presenting information and the quality of your relationship with the other person.

You should try to maintain eye contact with older clients instead of focusing on something else (e.g., documents, computer screen). If you suspect that the person has a hearing impairment, increase your speech volume slightly, speak a bit more slowly, and present information as clearly as possible (without shouting).

You should also refrain from engaging in behaviors such as frequently glancing at your watch, looking or sounding impatient, standing up and continuing to talk, or “talking with one hand on the doorknob.”

Minimize background noise

Age-related hearing loss makes it difficult for older adults to understand and remember speech in the presence of background noise, especially multiple competing conversations. If it is possible to close a door to a noisy hallway or move from a public area to a private office, do so. If ambient noise is constant— for example, background music is piped through speakers or a television is kept turned on in a waiting area—consider restructuring the environment to remove those sources of noise.

Face older adults when you speak with them, with your lips at the same level as theirs

Older adults with age-related hearing loss often try to compensate by reading the speaker’s lips. Even older adults with substantial hearing loss will supplement whatever they can hear (e.g., intonation) with lip reading. This is possible only if the older adult can see the speaker’s lips, preferably at face level.

Use visual aids such as pictures and diagrams to help clarify and reinforce comprehension of key points

Visual aids can reduce the need for complex verbal description as well as the cognitive effort required to understand these descriptions. Use visual aids interactively during the conversation to ensure that you and the listener are coordinating your attention on key concepts. For example, point to relevant parts of the aid at appropriate moments. To assist you in your presentations to seniors, Humana provides you access to customized sell sheet templates and marketing materials to use as visual aids.

Additional tips

The GSA also makes these recommendations for optimizing interactions between health care professionals and seniors:

  • Express understanding and compassion to help older clients manage fear and uncertainty related to the aging process and chronic diseases.
  • Engage in shared decision making.
  • Avoid ageist assumptions when providing information and recommendations about preventive care – such assuming they have diabetes or memory loss.
  • Verify listener comprehension during a conversation.
  • If computers are used during face-to-face visits with older adults, consider switching to models that facilitate collaborative use.

By keeping all of these tips in mind and incorporating them into your discussions with seniors, you’ll be engaging the older adults in a way that benefits both you and your clients. What’s more, you’ll be establishing yourself as a trusted advisor (one whom they will look forward to speaking with) and ensure the kind of customer satisfaction that lays the groundwork for future sales success.

Confidential. For Humana agent/agency use only. This material, including any subpart(s), is not to be used as marketing and is not to be provided to a prospect, an applicant, member, group, or the general public.

Gerontological Society of America (GSA) report, “Communicating With Older Adults An Evidence: Based Review of What Really Works,” published in 2012.

Link here: http://gerontology.ku.edu/sites/gerontology.drupal.ku.edu/files/docs/GSACommunicating%20with%20Older%20Adults%20low%20Final.pdf

Article from Life Hacker website entitled “The Mistakes We Make Communicating With Elders (and How to Fix Them), written by Mihir Patkar and published June 13, 2014.

Link here: http://lifehacker.com/the-mistakes-we-make-communicating-with-elders-and-how-1575782036

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