Aging is a natural process of living. Our clients, our family, friends and neighbors are all getting older. And, yes, even massage therapists get older. As the baby boomers enter their retirement years, many may need to be taken care of by their children who are now in their 30s and 40s with children of their own.
One of the things that becomes difficult with aging is adjusting communication skills to adapt to changing lifestyles and life processes. It takes skill and practice to be effective communicators, whether it is with family members or clients. To be effective in communication is an important part of being a caregiver. Done correctly, it fosters relationships with others that can be rich, authentic and trusting. Done incorrectly, it may foster misunderstanding, a lack of trust, resentment and anger.
According to Monteen Lucas, author of Aging as a Shared Journey, the term “communication” embraces a number of elements, including:
- non-verbal behavior
- listening skills
- choice of words
- timing of the exchange
- attitudes of individuals trying to communicate
Lucas also offers some guidelines in effective communication to enhance adult-to-adult relationships, especially in both therapeutic and familial situations.
- Clarity, Focus and Authenticity – Are you paying attention to your non-verbal language, such as facial expressions, tone of voice, body language and choice of words? Do they all convey the same message? Are you saying one thing, but emitting another by your stance? Kind words expressed harshly can be seen as being sarcastic and inauthentic. An open dialogue should not be a debate as to who might be right or wrong – it means being able to listen as well as to speak clearly and have both individuals be understood.
- Compassion and Caring – Refrain from speaking in anger or with resentment. Using statements that include a lot of “you always” or ” you never” can easily be interpreted as accusatory in nature and will usually elicit more of a defensive response than a responsive reply. Even with a lack of agreement between the two parties, communication can be compassionate.
- Kindness and Consideration – It is important to avoid using negative labels when having a discussion. Accusations directed at another person, or even at one’s self, are demeaning. No one likes to be called dumb, wrong or stupid. Watch out for words like “should,” “ought” and “can’t.” They sound more like orders to the receiver. Think before you speak and avoid a dictatorial or judgmental tone.
Is Communicating with Elders Different?
Whether you are having a conversation with someone your own age or someone older (or even younger), perhaps the most important thing in effective communication is to treat them the way you would want to be treated. A person of advancing years may have difficulty in communicating because of illness or age related dementia – but an elder person is not some alien being. Our society often treats aging as some sort of disability or illness rather than with respect. Western culture sees “old” as disposable, passé, irrelevant and obsolete. Perhaps this view will change as the over-65 population becomes a majority force.
There have always been stereotypes of aging. The media serves to magnify them – the person who talks incessantly or repeats the same stories over and over again, the person who is forgetful or hostile – these are not necessarily truths; they are exaggerated fiction of the aging population as a whole and may be signs of illnesses that can occur at any age.
The Importance of Adult-to-Adult Communication
In some cases an adult child may find themselves treating the parent, or elderly client, as if he or she was the child rather than a mature person. It is important to communicate as one adult to another. Both individuals need to pay attention to the words used, the tone of the voice and body language.
Some people are unhappy with how they have lived their lives and become sad and frustrated as they reach their senior years, but many people are satisfied with their lives and, as they grown older, see these years as a time to relax and enjoy the seeds they have sown.
The Massage Therapist as the Elder
We are all growing older together. Effective communication needs to come from both individuals. You may find yourself as the recipient of uncomfortable comments from younger clients or family members. It is important that as the elder, you may have to lead by example on how to communicate effectively and compassionately adult-to-adult. Perhaps the best way to treat others is to remember the Golden Rule and treat them as you would want to be treated given similar circumstances.