Communication is an integral part of everyday life. From birth, babies communicate by crying; parents teach their young children the ABCs of life to develop communication skills and adults converse daily with colleagues, family and the general public. But imagine if a person could not communicate?

Communication is vital for a vulnerable adult to ensure that their most basic needs are met. It is the prerogative of the health care workers to communicate well and build a good rapport with a patient to reduce their anxiety and boost their confidence.

Many vulnerable people feel they have no control of their lives, especially if they are unable to do the most basic of things like getting dressed, feeding themselves or asking for the toilet. This creates frustration and upset and sometimes communication can be problematic. 

Good communication can avoid this distress and allow the patient to see that they still have some influence over their own life.

Barriers Of Communication

However, there are many barriers of communication that occur and the most prevalent include:

  • Cultural: If individuals do not share the same language, communication can be extremely difficult
  • Accents/ dialects: Strong accents and different dialects can make it problematic for people to communicate.
  • Jargon/slang: An elderly patient may not understand the jargon that a health care worker uses, and this can cause a complete breakdown in communication. Situations also occur when difficult words are used and people may not understand what is meant.
  • Environmental / emotional: Vulnerable people can sometimes feel uncomfortable in their surroundings and are unable to communicate effectively what they need. Factors such as lighting, background noise and seating should always be considered. However, sometimes patients may feel scared or mistrusting in certain situations.
  • Physical: most people like to communicate face-to-face, however, this may not be possible if there are doors, screens or walls that impede this.

These communication barriers can be easily avoided by taking these simple steps:

  • Be visual: Patients respond so much better to visual prompts or hand movements than just being spoken to.
  • Always use unpretentious language: medical terminology is difficult to understand, but clear, simple language will help patients feel at ease.
  • Be careful of your body language and tone
  • Learn to listen: listening is such an important communication tool. Listening to patients should not be underestimated. Give them all your undivided attention and provide support and advice to encourage them to express any fears or concerns.

How To Care For A Person With Communication Difficulties

It may be difficult to communicate with a patient if they have a physical health condition i.e., they have a hearing difficulty or an eyesight problem. Developmental disorders affecting the brain such as Alzheimer’s disease or stroke could also pose problems.

The communication problem may happen overnight, or it may occur gradually, but how one communicates would need to be assessed to ensure the patient feels comfortable and understands what the carer is going to do to help them.

Evaluating how to communicate and care for a patient that may have these difficulties is crucial. Consider tone of voice, how you speak, your body language and gestures as these are imperative to communicating clearly.

Give the person your full attention and ignore background distractions, but ensure that you are aware of the patient’s reactions as not all communication is verbal. It is vital that you do not speak for them and that you allow them to try and respond whichever way they can.

Communicating with the aged can also pose problems, but it is important you speak slowly, clearly and loudly. The rate at which an elderly person learns is much slower than that of a young person, so be mindful when you are relaying information to them.

Tips For Communicating With The Elderly:

  • Use proper forms of address to establish respect by using formal language
  • Make them feel comfortable
  • Take some time to build a rapport
  • Do not rush them
  • Avoid interrupting
  • Use active listening skills
  • Demonstrate empathy
  • Avoid medical jargon

It is important that resident-centred contact with the elderly is encouraged because positive communication not only enforces self-esteem and dignity, but their stress levels are significantly reduced.

If you have any questions regarding communication with vulnerable individuals, please do not hesitate in contacting us on 0333 777 8575 and we will be happy to discuss this further.