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 Natural Awakenings Lancaster-Berks

Communicating with Seniors through Observation

Dec 30, 2020 04:19PM ● By Kristen Nebel
Whether we live near or far from our aging loved ones, it is important to remember that the distance does not measure how much we care nor our ability to care. No matter the distance, there is one simple action that can help us succeed—communication.
Communication is not just about words or sounds. Some older adults may rely on behavior to communicate. Adults that were once skilled at speaking or writing may no longer be able to due to medical problems or dementia. Sometimes behavior gets labeled as bad or good, and the reason for it gets missed. Being aware of words, sounds and behaviors will help to identify the needs of our loved ones, and guide us to the resources for success.
Know What They Aren’t Telling Us
Understanding what a loved one isn’t telling us involves the communication skill of observation.  Notice any actions, words or deeds that raise doubts. This isn’t about trying to trick or test a loved one, but about being alert for things that aren’t being said.
When an aging parent who still drives has more and more minor scratches or dents that are noticeable on the rear bumper and corners of her car, ask her to explain. If she says she backed up into something or blames it on someone who wasn’t paying attention, take notice. Passing the blame is a common strategy to hide decline.
Loved ones want to maintain their independence at all costs. If falling is a concern, an occupational therapy home safety evaluation can be helpful to reveal hazards that lead to falls. A physician can investigate medical reasons for falls, such as low blood pressure, low blood sugar or medication side effects. A physical therapy evaluation may be needed to help improve walking and determine if the use of a cane or walker is needed.
Sensory impairment is also something to consider. Any level of decrease in senses, such as hearing loss, impairs how someone interacts with their environment. It is best to treat hearing loss when it is first noticed. Untreated hearing loss increases the risk for dementia as those pathways in the brain lose their connection. The longer the hearing loss exists, the less likely it can be improved with hearing aids.
Understand How Aging Affects Our Loved Ones
Older adults may act okay but could be covering up something. They may self-isolate to prevent others from seeing their decline and to avoid embarrassment. They may also experience depression, but it often goes undiagnosed. Certain generations are less likely to share depressed feelings.
Grieving is caused by the many types of loss that happen due to aging. Older adults may lose their spouse and sell their home or downsize, which means they move into new environments with new faces and routines.
They lose their physical functioning, which increases isolation. Worry over losing control of their bowel or bladder adds to isolation. Sometimes physical and mental functions don’t age at the same time. Someone may want to do more, but their body simply can’t. Disagreeable behaviors not previously seen frequently begin as the difference in physical and mental abilities increase, which is often the case with dementia. 
Offer compassion, love and care. What comes across as being argumentative or demonstrating disagreeable behaviors may be our loved one’s reaction to a sense of further loss. For us to have any chance of understanding what our they are going through, we need to take time to hear, see and feel it. Navigating the senior waters without a clear course or advocate is challenging. Help is available; we have the choice to ask for help on behalf of our loved ones and ourselves.
Dr. Kristen Nebel, board-certified in both family and geriatric medicine, is the owner of Peace Of Mind Aging & Wellness Specialists. Her passion is to help guide patients and families through aging using a holistic approach that recognizes the physical, mental, social and spiritual changes. She combines in-home senior primary care and aging-in-place services to help patients meet their goals of staying at home. She also offers senior health consultations and aging-in-place evaluations. For more information, call 717-723-8531 or visit