As people age, their speech, language, memory, voice and swallowing changes naturally.

Communication or swallowing disorders can also be caused by stroke or developing a condition such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Communication Problems 

Communication problems experienced by older adults may be caused by neurological disorders such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

Communication problems can include difficulties to speaking (expressive language) as well as difficulties in understanding written and spoken language (receptive language).

Swallowing Problems 

Swallowing disorders (dysphagia) may affect as much as 22% of people aged 50 and over.

Swallowing disorders have a nutritional, emotional and social impact for the person and their family. If dysphagia is left untreated or not managed properly, it may result in chest infection, malnutrition, dehydration, weight loss, and in serious cases, death.

Signs of swallowing difficulties includes:

  • coughing when swallowing
  • a wet or gurgly voice during or after eating or drinking
  • extra time or effort needed to chew or swallow
  • recurring chest infections
  • unexplained weight loss.

How can we help?

Adapt Health Care speech pathologists are experts in the assessment and management of communication and swallowing disorders. They work with older Australians in their own home to promote independence, participation and quality of life.

For more information or to book an appointment with an Adapt Health Care speech pathologist, call 1800 085 030.

Tips for communicating with older adults

  • Understand the person’s communication strengths and weaknesses. Go slowly and allow extra time – particularly for more complex discussions
  • Sit face-to-face and communicate at eye level
  • Hold conversations in a quiet, comfortable environment. Ensure good lighting and minimise visual and auditory distractions
  • Check that sensory aids are working, in place and turned on (e.g. hearing aids, glasses)
  • Speak clearly and stick to one topic at a time
  • Repeat, summarise and/or write down important points or pieces of information
  • Simplify instructions or use pictures and gestures to illustrate your message
  • Provide the opportunity for the person to ask questions or seek clarification
  • Watch carefully for non-verbal cues during conversation and caregiving tasks
  • Acknowledge and respond to communication breakdowns or frustration
  • Make signs, brochures and forms accessible for people with vision and communication difficulties
  • Use greetings and touch appropriately to connect and ensure the person is relaxed and comfortable
  • Involve older adults with communication difficulties in supported conversation and decisions about their care and activities
  • Draw upon the person’s life history, former interests and familiar topics to support and stimulate conversation
  • Find time to communicate and connect on a regular basis

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