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Aging Issues Author: Staff Editor Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

Caring Conversations: Tips for Doctors Who Want to Communicate with Their Senior Patients

By Staff Editor
May 19, 2017 - 7:56:59 AM

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( - The senior sector of the US population is ever-expanding. By 2060 the number of Americans age 65 and over is expected to double to over 98 million. This means that by then, seniors will make up almost 24 percent of the total population. Today, and increasingly in the future, physicians will deal with senior healthcare on a daily basis. It’s vital for optimal healthcare that as a medical professional you understand how to communicate properly with them. Here are some tips to help you talk to senior patients so that everyone understands each other.

Establishing a Relationship

Whether it’s your first time meeting with a patient or it’s a follow-up appointment, here are some pointers you should always remember:

Address your patient properly: Unless he or she has stated otherwise, always address your patient by his or her last name, prefaced by the title he or she prefers.

Make your patient feel comfortable: Open the appointment with a few questions that are not directly health-related, for example, how are things going, or how has your day been today.

Reduce communication barriers: Be aware that some senior have visual or hearing impairments. If your patient suffers from one or both of these issues, check when they had their last eye or hearing exam.

Take your time: Don’t rush through the appointment. Give your patient time to explain why he or she is there. Don’t interrupt.

Mind your language: Avoid medical jargon, use clear, concise language. Speak slowly when you are giving instructions and check often to make sure that your patient understands.

Give them take-home information: Whenever possible, either write down instructions or give your patient a printed hand-out about their treatment or care. This may be problematic if your patient has a low level of literacy or is unable to read English. If this is the case, be sure to explain extra carefully.

Use Language Carefully

This aspect of patient care can’t be overemphasized. Think about it, some of the words you use may have a different meaning or connotation to senior patients than to you or your fellow healthcare workers. Choose your words carefully so that your patient will understand. Also be aware of the patient’s cultural background, this can help you communicate much more clearly. Use simple language and ask if your patient needs any further clarification. Always communicate with empathy and compassion. Don’t forget to include the family, if possible, in any communications you have with your senior patients. Check out for more ideas about how to communicate with your senior patients.

How to Make Sure Your Patient Understands

Before your patient leaves your office, you must be sure that he or she has completely understood everything you have talked about including:

His or her main health concern and any issues arising

What he or she needs to do about it

Why it’s important to act now

When he or she needs to come and see you again

An easy way you can check is by using what is known as the “teach back method.” This entails you asking the patient to explain to you what they have understood from the visit. You can also ask your patient how he or she feels about the treatment plan and if he or she foresees any problems carrying it out.

When Conflict Arises

The conflict between a doctor and a patient or the doctor and the patient’s family can arise for a number of reasons. One of them is because communication has broken down and either the patient or the family does not understand the symptoms, the treatment or the purpose of treatment. Should a conflict arise between you and your patient or their family, the first thing you must do is to work with them and any other support you feel necessary (with the patient’s consent) to resolve the issue. In order to do so, you must listen to the patient and/or family and get to the heart of their concerns so you can address them fully and adequately. 

By following these tips you can ensure that you and your elderly patients build a relationship built on rapport and that you are providing them with the optimal level of care. Always remember to listen carefully and be patient, don’t shut your senior patients down or talk over them. Answer all their questions fully and clearly. Be certain that they have understood everything before they leave your office.


Louise Wade writes about how you can offer a better level of service to your clients. She has worked as a health practitioner for many years, visiting many different facilities throughout her career.


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