Insightsthe blog of Porter Hills
Normal Communication Changes with Age
Allison Kampmueller, MA CCC-SLP
Porter Hills Home Care
Watch the 13 on Your Side Senior Wellness segment on this topic.
Communication is an essential part of every person’s day to day life, regardless of age or health. We participate in verbal and nonverbal communication in all of our interactions. Sometimes communication abilities can be impacted by a major health issue, like a stroke or Parkinson’s disease diagnosis, but other changes are a normal part of the aging process. But just because they are normal, doesn’t mean they don’t negatively impact our communication.
Hearing loss is common with the aging population, and it can be a real barrier to communication. In order to improve communication as much as possible, it can be helpful to remove conflicting background noise as much as possible- like turning off the tv to have a conversation or going out to eat at less busy times of the day, as well as to make sure that you are facing the person that you are talking to and not trying to talk to the back of their head or through a wall. That’s only going to increase frustration! Of course, if there are hearing concerns, it is appropriate to ask your doctor for a referral to an audiologist to determine the type and severity of hearing loss that may be present.
Voice changes are also common with aging both with pitch and loudness, which could be related to several biological changes in the larynx, or to increased shortness of breath. Sometimes these changes aren’t enough to make a person unable to communicate, but just enough to make the person not quite sound like they used to.
Language changes are often based in a decline in memory, attention, and speed of processing. Most people will experience the feeling of not being able to remember names or familiar words. It might be the name of a new medication that has 10 syllables, or the name of the city your niece just moved to. Sometimes using a strategies to help recall that word can be really helpful, like association with distinguishing features or famous people. If word retrieval problems become more and more frequent or severe, keeping someone from participating in social activities or from being able to communicate pain, for example, a referral to a speech-language pathologist may be appropriate.
A Speech Language Pathologist might be able to help determine if these changes are a normal part of aging or perhaps something more significant.
American Speech–Language–Hearing Association (ASHA) website has a lot of resources for families and caregivers.