3 Important Communication Practices for Nurses Caring for Older People

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Close-up of a pair of young hands holding a pair of elderly hands.

A 2021 report titled “Geriatric Health in the U.S.” by researcher John Alfian, found that 6.6 million elderly individuals currently receive Medicaid; this is according to market and consumer data provider Statista. With such a large percentage of elderly patients, communicating with them (especially those receiving end-of-life care or who may be physically or mentally diminished) requires special skills and intentionality.

Elderly patient care requires medical professionals who are trained in effective communication strategies that can help with improving patient care. Training for this type of communication is not always readily available to staff who care for elderly patients. Medical professionals can pursue an advanced degree in nursing, and develop the skills to communicate effectively with the elderly and those who care for them.

Benefits of Effective Communication with Seniors

There are a number of reasons to train medical staff to effectively communicate with senior and elderly patients. These include:

  • Higher life satisfaction in patients
  • Increased quality of life ratings
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower rates of aggression

Effective communication techniques benefit elderly patients and provide medical professionals the opportunity to provide improved patient care. They can lead to better health outcomes for patients, and provide caretakers with the peace of mind that comes from knowing their patients are well taken care of.

The impact of improved communication can also extend beyond the patient. Informed family members and loved ones may benefit from the knowledge that their parents or other family members are receiving the best care possible.

Communication improvement also means greater efficiency within the workplace. Nursing professionals, as a result of successful patient communication, can more accurately provide treatments that address the patient’s needs. Moreover, improved communication can help a nurse act as an advocate for the patient, especially when dealing with doctors and family members. Improved communication links back to more equitable and patient-focused care for the elderly.

Tips for Effective Communication

Use these tips when communicating with elderly patients to improve the outcomes and quality of treatments and medical care.

1. Exercise Patience

Time is a huge consideration when conversing with the elderly. Elderly patients may be hard of hearing, stressed, or confused at the time of the conversation. They also may be experiencing other age-related issues that could obstruct communication. For these reasons, elderly patients may require more time to complete a conversation than other patients.

Similarly, health care professionals should exercise patience in conversations with caretakers and family members as well. Elderly patient care may often involve or cause drastic life changes in the lives of not only the patient, but their caretakers and families. Because of this, health care professionals should take special care when communicating things that may be difficult to embrace.

Without proper communication training, health care professionals might come across as gruff or curt when sharing unpleasant or tragic news with patients and families. Elderly patient care can require communicating updates with extra patience and compassion, so those hearing the news can process it fully.

2. Explain Clearly

Many factors come into play that could make explaining results and treatment options a bit more difficult when dealing with elderly patients. Hearing loss, dementia, generational differences that affect the patient’s understanding of the treatment or medicine, despondency, and a host of other factors can impede an elderly patient’s ability to grasp what a younger patient might understand at once.

The key to communicating well is patience, and the key to communicating effectively is a clear explanation. Medical jargon may or may not be helpful when describing a test result or treatment option. Perhaps a different route should be taken to make sure the elderly patient understands the important points of their condition or the proposed or pending treatment.

3. Involve Family Members

There are advantages to involving family members in treatment decision-making regarding elderly care. Despite this, formal measures to involve a patient’s family members and caretakers in the treatment and decision-making process are still atypical in health care settings.

Family members can be vital in the communication process with any patient, and the effect is often magnified in the case of elderly patients. Family members can help calm the patient, offer different ways of communicating concepts that the patient may better understand, and can help confused or disconcerted patients make decisions. The communication process should include family members as much as possible.

Improving Patient Care

Training nurses and other medical professionals in effective communication practices can impact a wide spectrum of the facets of patient care and treatment.

  • Better communication can help raise a patient’s quality of life and treatment satisfaction.
  • It can benefit caretakers and families by raising their confidence in their family member’s health care, and by allowing them to be more involved in the treatment process.
  • It can help all involved medical personnel by giving them tools to manage their own stress when engaged in difficult or trying conversations. It can also allow them to more effectively relate to their patients.

Health care professionals should use effective communication not only with elderly patients, but with all patients and their families. Communication may be a challenge with elderly patients. It can also be difficult with patients from all walks of life, so effective training is a vital element in improving patient care.

Become an Effective Communicator

Providing elderly patient care can be a challenging yet highly rewarding profession. For elderly patients and their caretakers, working with health care professionals who are trained in effective communication practices can make a profound difference in the treatment and care process. It can also improve patient satisfaction, quality of life, and relationships with health care providers.

Ohio University designed its 100% online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program to meet the needs of hard-working professionals who have the drive to advance their expertise.

Explore the Ohio University online Master of Science in Nursing program today. Its core curriculum integrates advanced nursing theory with evidence-based nursing practice and can help you reach your career goals in nursing.

Recommended Readings

Bedside Nursing: Key Roles and Responsibilities for Nurses

Nurse Burnout Prevention Strategies for Nurse Leaders

Pediatric Vital Signs: A Guide for Nurses


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Older Adults

MedPro, “10 Strategies for Communicating Effectively with Senior Care Residents”

National Institute on Aging, Tips for Improving Communication with Older Patients

Statista, Geriatric health in the U.S. – Statistics & Facts