Four Ways to Reduce Stress in Personal Communications

Part of the aging process is a diminished ability to deal with stress. Concentrating, remembering and recall are affected by stress, making the decision-process more difficult for seniors. If retirement housing personnel can reduce or eliminate stressful situations, they can reduce the amount of time it takes in face-to-face communications.

Let’s look at ways in which physical stress is created for seniors.

Stress #1: Arthritis. Half of people over age 65 are affected by some form of arthritis. While not all forms are debilitating, staff needs to be aware of the possibility and deal with it. One solution is using a handshake that’s stress-free. Avoid a “gorilla-grip” handshake.

Easing up on the squeeze is one way to do it. Here’s an even better way. Use a two-handed handshake. It’s warmer and friendlier. It also sends out a meta-message that you care and are interested in the person.

Arthritis also makes it more difficult for residents or prospects to sign documents easily. Keep a large barrel pen on hand when they need to sign something. First, it’s physically easier to sign and second an older person may not want to show you they have limitations.

Stress #2: Hearing Loss. While older people in general have hearing decline, older males’ hearing declines faster than females, especially at a higher pitch level.

To overcome hearing deficits, try to face up and look directly at the person when speaking. This makes it easier for the person to hear and by doing so you can observe clues of any hearing deficiencies. If the person turns away or appears to be distracted, pause and wait until he or she looks back again.

Generally, speak in a slightly louder voice. Don’t shout. Choose common, easier to understand words in place of technical words or jargon. Emphasize words by enunciating clearly. Speak more slowly without appearing to sound patronizing.

Lower the pitch or frequency level of the voice and stay in a logical sequence. The older adult may not hear all the words but still understands it because of the context. Repeat or paraphrase, if it appears that a person did not understand.

Stress #3: Vision Decline. There is an increased sensitivity to glare for older eyes. The glare may be from sunlight outside of the building, or it can be glare reflecting from desktops, from the glass in picture on the wall or from other reflective surfaces.

My advice: Don’t seat an older customer facing bright sunlight. Be aware that sunlight coming in through your office window changes during the day, and during certain seasons.

Conduct business in a well-lit area. Sit close to the person, face-to-face if possible….he or she may be lip-reading. Increase the use of appropriate gestures when talking to re-enforce your message points. Minimize unnecessary quick movement on your part, even if there are time pressures.

Stress #4: Room Temperatures. Older people tend to be warmer when the temperature is warm and cooler when the temperature is cool. You need to understand that hot or cold air blowing on an older person can make them uncomfortable and they can be distracted. Maybe you need to sit in the chair where they sit and determine if this is an issue. If it’s a problem, then do what you can to reduce any downdraft.

Physical situations that cause stress can be controlled and better service will be provided.