Thursday, May 13, 2010
Friday Five: Staying age appropriate with older adults
Older adults are not like preschool children, so why do so many people talk to them as such? Bent over, face close, hands clasped, gaping smile, voice raised an octave and, "Evelyn, it's time for music, yay! Would you like music? How about some music!" I wrote the other day that older adults absolutely love when you talk enthusiastically with them. But I'm sure that they do not appreciate anyone talking down at them, trying to get them excited for something as if they are offering them a treat for good behavior.
Below are some tips on staying age appropriate with older adults. Forget the "sweeties" and "honeys," but don't be offended when they turn around and use these words with you.
1) Consider your volume. Of course, we often have to talk a lot louder than normal to compensate for any hearing loss. I have had to work a lot at this because I normally speak softly. However, don't assume right away that you'll need to put so much power into your voice that it vibrates your entire chest. I suggest starting at a normal volume (for me, that is a little louder than I am comfortable with), then take some quick cues from your clients as to how you should adjust it. When you see them squinting, tilting an ear towards you, or furrowing their brow as though they are concentrating a little too hard on what you're saying, take a hint that you may have to speak up a bit. Also, continue to remind yourself to speak consistently at that volume. If they have to ask, "Pardon me?" again and again, they may begin to feel discouraged and frustrated with making conversation.
2) Watch your tone of voice. It was something mom always told us, and I will say it again. Not for the same reason, of course. Watch your tone to make sure it doesn't start creeping up the register. We will talk to babies and dogs in this voice, but it is not okay to talk this way to an individual who has lived long and accomplished much.
3) Let them make choices. A lot of adults in hospice or nursing homes may feel like they have had all their freedom taken from them. They often don't get choices in what they wear, what they eat, etc. Create opportunities to offer them choices. Should we play "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" or "Danny Boy"? Also, if they get up to leave, there is usually not much you can or should do to keep them in session. They are adults, and you can't beg them to stay, or raise your voice, or block them off at the entrance. You can however, offer them an opportunity to join again when they feel like ready.
4) Keep conversation. Show genuine interest in your client. Talk with them on subjects they care about. I wrote a post the other day called Keeping Conversation When It Counts. Use this for topic ideas: family, travel, hobbies, memories, etc.
5) Play preferred music. You've heard this a hundred times, I'm sure. Learn as much as you can about your older adult's choice of music. If you know nothing about your client or group, you can take a smart guess at their music preference. People tend to like the music they listened to in their twenties and early thirties. Take their age, calculate when they were this old, then begin with whatever was popular at that time. Also consider gender, religion, and ethnicity. If it comes down to it, it does not hurt to ask. In fact, they may see you asking as a sign of complete respect.