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A Book Review of: 
Communicating With Older Adults

A Guide for Health Care and Senior Service Professionals and Staff
Author: Ann E. Benbow, Ph.D

Rating:

Do you effectively communicate with your senior clients?  The answer might surprise you.  Many care professionals and business managers often mistake their general communication skills with the ability to communicate effectively at all age ranges. 

However, as most professionals that serve senior clients will tell you, there can be a high level of frustration associated with working with senior clients who don’t follow instructions or get confused.  

The assumption is often that memory loss or stubbornness on the part of the client is the reason that instructions are not followed.  In fact, studies show that in many cases, it is the lack of knowing how to communicate with older adults that causes the biggest share of the problem. 

Proper communication doesn’t just mean providing the information, it means providing it in such a manner that it will be understood and that it will be retained.

The necessity for learning new ways of communicating with older adults has risen over the past few years and will continue to increase as the general population of the US grows increasingly older.  New businesses that serve this sector are among the fastest growing in the US and according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, two of the top ten fastest growing jobs in the United States until 2010 will be in the field of senior care.

An extensive review of “Communicating with Older Adults” from a professional standpoint, leads me to state in no uncertain terms that this is a book that should be on the shelf and/or computer of every professional that works with seniors, even if those seniors are a small percentage of your customer base.   I can also go further to recommend it to adult family caregivers of seniors, those in retail sales, clergy, and especially consumer customer service professionals.

Most books that I’ve read on communication with older adults are based only on opinion and personal observations.  Not so with Dr. Benbow’s “Communicating with Older Adults”.  While there may be a healthy dose of opinion, those opinions are based on some extensive study and compilation of results from over 300 journal articles and looking for agreement among the researchers.  

Neither were all these researchers coming from one discipline.  They include medical sciences, adult education, and communication technologies.  The fact that such information comes from so many different areas assures me that professional biases have largely been eliminated.

Aside from the necessity of learning to communicate more effectively with seniors, Dr. Benbow lays out principles that should be incorporated into the infrastructure of any business that has a professional/client relationship, regardless of age.  

Home care and home health care companies, pharmacists, doctors, and other clinical service providers are among the leading beneficiaries.  When you learn how to work more effectively by taking easy to implement steps, you help to make sure that their clients are on the same track and have a complete understanding of the necessary information that they must absorb and retain.

A novice to the field of senior care might wonder why anyone would be interested in learning to communicate with seniors more effectively.  Aside from cases where dementia is an issue, it has been shown that advancement in age rarely alters intelligence in any significant way.

The answer lies in many of the changes that seniors go through as they age.  Loss of hearing, vision, and a lack of understanding of relatively common place terms in your business, can often dilute your message to the point where it is either misunderstood or not understood at all.  These alone can make it virtually impossible for seniors to absorb your message.  If it is absorbed but absorbed wrong, the results can be devastating.

Checklists

Though these techniques apply to all businesses, Dr. Benbow specifically references communication checklists and techniques for:

  • Healthcare and other clinical workers
  • Pharmacists and pharmacy employees
  • Long term care providers
  • Assisted living facilities
  • Senior information and referral specialists

Learning Factors

While these checklists are wonderful, what I find most appealing about Dr. Benbow’s book is the section “Nineteen Older Adult Learning Factors”.  If you read no other portion of this book, read this.  I could not help myself from going through this section as a checklist of everything that businesses and professionals do wrong in working with senior clients.  These factors are critical learning factors that are important at every age but become increasingly important as one ages.

Conclusion

Keep in mind that “Communicating with Older Adults” is not a technical manual though it could be used as one.  It is a practical guide that anyone can use.  Dr. Benbow intentionally stays away from industry terminology that could be meaningless to some, and combines documented research with common sense to form a manual that most people could read in a couple of hours or less.  If you are only interested in the part that is specifically designed for your business, you can probably digest most of what you want in 45 minutes.  However, there is so much there that I would plan to review it on a regular basis.

I also recommend using “Communicating with Older Adults” as part of your company’s required training and run regular reviews based on Dr. Benbow’s recommendations.  Doing so will help keep you and your staff focused on effective communication with all your clients.

Dr. Benbow's book is available in both print and electronic formats.  It's a personal decision but I found the electronic version to be easy to navigate and it only requires a web browser.  It comes on CD and can travel anywhere on a laptop for quick review.

Placing an order:

Call: 800.448.5213 or
http://www.caresource.com/agingbooks.htm 

 Review by: Stephen Hardman, EIC, www.SeniorMag.com

 

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