Top 10 Tips for Communicating with Nursing Home Residents

1) Be conscious of how you speaking with the residents

  • Remember K.I.S.S. — Keep It Short and Simple, especially until you have a better sense of your friend’s conversational abilities.
  • Speak slowly and clearly in a low tone of voice.  With time, you will learn which residents are hard of hearing, but don’t assume– no one likes being shouted at.
  • Use familiar language: if the resident’s first language is not English, try to use a few words from their native language.  Even a simple “Hola” or “Bonjour” may help them feel more at home.
  • Enunciate clearly; some residents may rely on reading lips to give form to the sounds they hear.

2) Treat residents as peers; they can tell when someone is treating them like a child or as an inferior.

  • Sit on the same level as them.  Peers generally communicate on the same physical level.   As an added benefit, pulling up a chair and sitting down is one of the most simple non-verbal ways you can tell a resident that you are there to visit, and you are relaxed and happy to be visiting.  
  • Avoid using the tone of voice characteristic of independent-dependent relationships (like between a child and parent or a student and a teacher)

3) Do not interrupt the residents while they are speaking, they may lose their train of thought

  • If they pause, it may be helpful to supply the word you think they’re looking for.
  • Avoid distractions. Do not pull out your phone unless it is an emergency, or unless it is in order to facilitate something in the conversation, i.e.  finding a song for them or looking something up for them.

4) Avoid contradicting or arguing with the residents

  • Remember to have patience and compassion: be empathetic with the possible challenges the resident must face.

5) For residents whose ability to communicate is limited by cognition or speech impairments, yes or no questions, or questions to which answers are limited to two choices might help.

  • Example: Do you like football or basketball better?
  • Example: Would you like to go outside, or stay here to visit?

6) If the resident does not understand a question the first time, repeat the question exactly.

  • You can try replacing a word if they don’t seem to understand, but keep the same surrounding words, gestures, and tone of voice
  • Allow the resident time to respond.

7) Use both verbal and nonverbal communication.

  • Verbal communication can include storytelling, singing, or initiating conversation.
  • Nonverbal communication can include smiling, providing eye contact, and touching gestures (such as touching the arm to get their attention).
  • If you sense the resident would be comfortable, show simple expressions of caring: a hug, hold their hand, even a smile can help make the resident feel cared for and loved.

8) Try to personalize your conversation with the resident.

  • Identify yourself and call the resident by name–once you learn what name they prefer to be called.  (Some residents may prefer first names; some may prefer being called “Mrs. Smith” or “Mr. Jones.”)
  • Show interest in what the resident has to say. It encourages them to communicate.

9) Ask the resident questions rather than ordering them to do things, to help them feel more in control.  

  • Example: instead of saying “it’s time to go to lunch”, say “we’re going to the dining room for lunch,, okay?” or, if possible, offer options “Would you like to have soup or salad for lunch today?”

10) Remember that silence is a good thing; learn to become more comfortable with space in the conversation.