AARP Eye Center
Written by Chloe-Rose Crouch, AARP Massachusetts Outreach Intern
AARP’s Livable Communities Initiative strives to help communities become great places to live for people of all ages by focusing on eight “Domains of Livability:” housing, transportation, social participation, access to information, outdoor spaces, health services, social inclusion, and civic participation.
Salem, one of the first five cities to join Massachusetts' Network of Age -Friendly Communities, established a Taskforce on Aging to foster changes in their community.
Patricia Zaido, Co-Chair of the Salem for All Ages Task Force, along with members of the Social Participation Subcommittee, designed a training called “How to Communicate with Older Adults.” The training targets two critical domains: communication and information, and respect and social inclusion. Zaido’s work reminds us that equitable access to information and the inclusion of everyone is essential to creating a more livable community.
With a background in communications and teaching, Zaido’s training addresses why we often leave older adults out of conversations, and how we can change that to promote their inclusion.
“We hold real stereotypes of aging communities,” says Zaido, “and when we enter conversations with older adults, these stereotypes dictate the conversation.” It is this fact that inspired the training, which was delivered at the Peabody Essex Museum to staff last year.
She explains in her training that stereotypes of older adults lead to their social exclusion and hinders their access to important information. “People are more condescending when interacting with older adults,” says Zaido, which results in younger people “[taking] a more authoritarian role in conversations and [providing] less information on important subjects. Therefore, it is up to us as community members to change how we communicate with elders to ensure equitable access to information and social inclusion. "
So what can we do to better communicate with elders?
The training encourages us to challenge the blanket assumptions we hold of what older adults can and cannot do. We must remember that “no two seventy-five-year-olds are alike,” says Zaido, “aging populations are not homogeneous, and what is true for one older adult is not necessarily true for another.”
Keeping this in mind, a key take-away of the training is to avoid making judgements based on our assumptions. The training encourages listeners to “adapt [their] communication style to the individual and to avoid patronizing.”
The training also touches on the natural occurrences of the ageing process that impact communication. While we should always remember that the situation of every older adult is different, we need to also be aware that “the information presented to older adults may be less helpful due to limitations such as visual or auditory impairment.”
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, nearly half of adults 75 and older have hearing loss. Therefore, it’s necessary to be aware of this when delivering information. We can be more equitable in our communication with older adults, she says, by taking time to verify information so listeners clearly receive the message.
After the successful delivery of this training at the Peabody Essex Museum last year, Zaido will deliver it again for other Salem-based organizations.
In fact, completing this training is part of an initiative for Salem businesses to earn an Age-Friendly Business Certification. In order to earn this certification, local Salem businesses need to meet criteria established by the Salem Taskforce on Aging, as well as participate in Patricia’s training. So far, five businesses have obtained this certification, and the Taskforce intends to resume the certification process for other local businesses post-pandemic.
By delivering these trainings, Zaido encourages better communication of information, and facilitates the social inclusion of older adults. This age-friendly work moves Salem towards becoming a community that’s great to live in for people of all ages.
To learn more about AARP’s Livable Communities Initiative, click here.