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How To Communicate With A Senior Who Can No Longer Speak

How to Communicate with a Senior Who Can No Longer Speak

Humans are social creatures, and while the lion’s share of our interactions revolve around verbal communication, the truth is that we rely on other senses, particularly touch, not only to interact with the world around us, but to non-verbally connect to other people in intimate and meaningful ways.

It’s no surprise, then, that seniors who lose the ability to speak, due to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or other conditions, may find some measure of comfort in the touch of loved ones, or even physical connections with support staff, such as the simple act of hand-holding, hair brushing, massage, and so on.

When a beloved senior in your life loses the ability to speak, you may feel at a loss as to how to maintain your connection.

Can your loved one hear you and understand?  What if they don’t recognize you?  This can be a frustrating and disheartening experience for you, so imagine how hard it is for your loved one.  What can you do?

There are options for maintaining your bond and helping your elderly loved one through this difficult time.

Talking

Even if your loved one can no longer talk to you, that doesn’t mean you have to sit in silence.  Humans crave connection to one another, and seniors that can’t communicate their thoughts and feelings may still take some comfort in hearing a familiar voice and learning the information you have to relate.

You can talk about what’s going on in your life and keep your loved one up to date about his/her family and friends.

You can talk about what’s going on in the world, or about books you’re reading or movies you saw.  If you’re not sure what to talk about, consider reading books from the senior’s favorite author or genre, or bringing in magazines or newspapers that would be of interest.

Just because someone can’t communicate with you doesn’t mean you can’t communicate with them.

You don’t necessarily have to try to fill the silence with inane chatter, but delivering meaningful information or reciting literature could be a great way to help your loved one fight boredom and frustration.  Providing comfort is the goal, and sitting in awkward silence because you can’t have two-way banter isn’t fun for anyone.

Touch Therapy

When verbal communication isn’t possible, touch can be a way to connect with and soothe a loved one who is frustrated, angry, or depressed and unable to express thoughts and feelings. However, it’s always best to proceed with caution, especially if your loved one may not recognize you or understand what’s going on.

You should behave like a doctor, telling your loved one what you’re going to do and then gauging reactions to see if you should continue. Actions like hand holding, hugging, hair brushing, massage, and other forms of touch can be soothing, but they could also agitate a person who feels like a stranger is overstepping bounds, so simply communicate your intentions and remain vigilant about watching for signs that the interaction is unwanted.  Body language like scowling, pulling away, and other nonverbal cues can help you understand limits.

Music

Many people love music, and playing the bands and genres they enjoyed in their younger days can comfort them and help them to relax.

Research has shown that music can have positive effects on those with Alzheimer’s, in particular, helping to relieve anxiety and agitation and improve mood.  Dancing has also been found to be beneficial, so if your loved one enjoys dancing and is able, this might be another option to explore.

The goal is to find ways to make life as easy and enjoyable as possible for a loved one who can no longer communicate.  Whether you use touch therapy, play music, or simply talk, you have the opportunity to ease suffering, offer comfort, and perhaps make life better for your senior loved one.


If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation.  Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.

Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia CareBed & Wheelchair Transfer AssistanceCompanionshipHousekeeping & Meal PreparationPersonal CareRecovery Care, and Transportation.

Serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Greater San Diego, Family Matter In-Home Care has offices in Campbell, CAPleasanton, CARoseville, CASan Marcos, CA, and San Mateo, CA.

Carol Pardue-Spears

Carol has worked in the healthcare field for more than forty years. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, she worked for El Camino Hospital in the cardiac unit, Los Gatos Community Hospital, The Women’s Cancer Center in Los Gatos and several home health and hospice agencies. Carol founded Family Matters in 2002 to fill a deficit she witnessed in high-quality, in-home services and care.