Elderly people are different from us not only physically, but also in terms of their values, expectations and ideals. Most of the present generation in their 70’s today were born before Singapore’s independence. They grew up in a hierarchical society where personal sacrifices and a strong respect for seniority and authority were valued. Whilst many of these values still resonate with the younger generation, more values such as independence, individuality, personal growth development and freedom and a willingness to explore the world beyond our culture and our borders have been added to our identity today.

Communicating and relating to elderly family members has to take into account their physical limitations as they age, as well as their culture and values. One of the ways we can communicate better with the elderly is to use the concept of SOLVENT communications with them. 

Use SOLVENT Communication

S – Slow Down
Slow down, if only 1 suggestion could be made for improving your message-sending ability, it would be this. 

O - Open Posture
The opposite of maintaining an open posture is to fold your arms and convey a message of “Don’t come near me, I have no time for you”. 

L – Lean Forward
This indicates interest in the elderly, a willingness to listen.

V – Verbal Qualities
The tone of voice can convey much more than the content. Keep your voice at a lower pitch.

E – Eye Contact
This is not only respectful, it is a basic courtesy.

N – Name
By saying “Mr Tan, …” it will help the elderly person know that you are talking to him.

T – Touch
Touch conveys warmth and care and acceptance.

Hearing Impairments and the Elderly

Recognise that many older people experience some hearing impairment. Research has shown that people over the age of 50 are likely to lose some hearing each year. Recognise the following symptoms of hearing loss in the elderly and when you do, arrange for them to see a doctor for treatment or assistance devices such as hearing aids. This may help to prevent social isolation and improve their relationships and quality of life. 

Signs of Hearing Impairment

  • Difficulty hearing over the telephone.
  • Trouble following a conversation when 2 or more people are talking at the same time.
  • Turning on the TV at a very high sound level.
  • Strains to understand conversations.
  • Has trouble hearing because of background noise.
  • Thinks that others are mumbling when they are speaking normally.

Tips for Better Communication with the Hearing Impaired

  • Stand at a distance of 3 to 5 feet. 
  • Arrange to have light on your face, not behind you.
  • Position yourself at eye level to the listener.
  • Always face the hearing-impaired person and let your facial expression mirror your message.
  • Rephrase misunderstood sentences in a shorter and simpler form.
  • Do not talk while eating, smoking or laughing.
  • Identify the topic of conversation so the listener has some contextual clues.
  • Minimise background noise.
  • Ask how you can help the listener. 

Adapted with permission from an article first published by the previous Ministry of Community, Development and Sports in Sep 2000, currently known as Ministry of Family Development.