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How to Communicate with Older Patients

Posted by Elliot Franz | Posted on June 12, 2015

    As an eye care professional, you may have noticed that a good number of your patients are over the age of 65. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 10,000 people each day turn age 65. Age makes a difference on how often you will be seeing your patients. On average, people over the age of 65 visit a doctor eight times a year, while those under 65 see a doctor only five times a year.

    So, how do you help seniors who come into your practice? Are there ways that senior citizens can be different from younger patients? And how do those differences influence the care you provide to them? Below is a list (which is by no means exhaustive) of six tips that might help you improve your communication with older patients:

Understand that there is no “typical” senior citizen.

    Your patient may have been a college professor or a worked in a factory. So, get to know them. Is the patient from the area? Where did he or she go to school? Questions like this are more than just small talk. They help you understand the patient on a very fundamental level. Use this information to help you interact with and treat the patient.

Take your time with them.

    As people age, hearing and vision decline, and older people process information at a slower rate. So, be careful not to throw too much information at them. Be concise and use a conversational tone. Give them the opportunity to ask questions and listen to what they have to say. Studies have shown that problems with noncompliance diminish when a doctor takes the time to listen to a patient’s concerns.

Limit distractions.

    Close the door, let calls go to voice mail, and instruct your staff not to disturb you with routine items when you are with a patient. Give your full attention to the patient so that he or she can understand and act upon what you are saying.

Watch your body language.

    Make sure that your body language is as friendly as your verbal message. Look directly at the patient. Don’t roll your eyes, look at the patient sternly, cross your arms over your chest, or tap your foot impatiently. Watch where your feet are pointing. Are they pointing at the door or towards the patient? This can be an indication of where you are placing your focus.

Limit the jargon.

    You understand the terms myopia and cortical visual impairment, but your patient may not. So, explain that myopia is nearsightedness and cortical visual impairment is visual impairment that has its roots in the brain, not the eyes. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Use models and other visual aids.

    Talking about how macular degeneration or glaucoma affects the eye can help. Bringing out a Gulden Ophthalmics eye model can help a lot more. You have experience in eye conditions, but the patient is learning for the first time. Using a model or web animation will bring your words to life. It will take the mystery out of what is going on in the patient’s body for them. When a patient knows and understands what is happening, compliance increases.

    By following these guidelines you are doing more than just providing good customer service, you are helping your patient achieve good eye health.

    For tips on how to make your written material easy for seniors to understand, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services put together this Toolkit for Making Written Material Clear and Effective.

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