Build a Stronger Senior Community with Build a Stronger Senior Community with Respectful CommunicationRespectful Communication

Moving from home to a senior community is a big transition, and there’s one simple but powerful way community managers and staffers can make it easier: call residents by their names. When seniors write about their frustrations, they often describe being called patronizing nicknames: sweetie, honey, dear, and young lady or young man. Doctors and researchers say terms like these are not only hurtful but can also cause stress and poorer health among seniors. Here’s how you can build a stronger senior community through respectful communication.

Respect and record your residents’ preferences

The simplest way to show your community members respect is to follow Miss Manners’ rule: call people what they want to be called. Some of your residents may prefer to go by their first names, while others are more comfortable with Mr. or Mrs. Chart notes and door tags will make it easier for busy CNAs and other staffers to recall names during their shifts. By using residents’ names, your team will also reinforce the professionalism of the caregiving work they do—something that’s also worthy of respect.

Practice respectful listening

If a resident brings up an issue with you at a time when you’re too busy to talk, offer to schedule a time to talk when you can give them your full attention. When you do have conversations with your residents and their families, practice active listening. That means first listening to understand what the other person is saying and how they feel, rather than trying to come up with your own response immediately.

By actively listening, you’ll show your residents that you care about their experiences and feelings and that you take what they say seriously. Then, when you’re ready to respond, they’ll be in a better position to listen and work with you to resolve their issue.

Put your respectful communication policy in writing

Let your staffers know that your community will address all residents the way they want to be addressed. Make it a goal to avoid the use of pet names like “sweetie” and “honey” that offend many seniors. Try to allow time for staffers and mangers to listen actively to residents and families.

You can find specific ideas in the National Institute on Aging’s free clinician’s handbook on talking with older patients. It’s written for doctors, but many of its recommendations work for senior caregivers and community managers, too, such as:

  • Encourage seniors to voice their concerns
  • Be alert to potential communication barriers (fear, embarrassment, etc.)
  • Expect today’s seniors to have high expectations for participating in their own care

You can find a shorter list of action steps and senior communication best practices here, written by the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing.

Respectful communication can be a selling point

Encourage your residents and their family members to mention your community’s respectful communication culture when they review your facility. Today’s seniors and their families have higher expectations of senior communities than ever before. You can stand out to prospective residents by positioning your community as one where each resident is a valued individual.

Find more best practices and community-building ideas in the Blog for Business Owners.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

1 Comment

  1. Shirley December 22, 2016 Reply

    These are all wonderful suggestions. My daddy is 85 years old and most of his doctors, med assistants/nurses, and/or office personnel call him “Mr. Cofield” or “Mr. Hoyt” (his first name – we do that in the South). Occasionally, some of them (usually young females there whom he has just met) call him “Hoyt”….I immediately am taken aback by that. Call me old fashioned (I’m almost 60), but the “Mr.” or “Miss” or “Mrs.” would be the proper way to address your elderly patients! I would think not only good manners – but office protocol – would require addressing them in this manner. Even at church, my children were taught to call the senior members in such a manner – they knew them and were familiar enough with them to call them “Mr. Julian” or “Miss Daisy”, etc…. I decided the next time this happens, I will (in a nice way) instruct them to call my daddy “Mr.”!

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