8 tips to enhance communication for seniors with hearing or speech difficulties

Excerpt: While older adults are at higher risk of speech and hearing difficulties, early assessment, treatment and practical strategies can improve communication, social interactions and quality of life. Wearing properly fitted hearing aids, reducing background noise and watching faces and gestures of people talking to you can improve listening skills and comprehension. Making eye contact, speaking slowly and being calm in stressful situations can also help you communicate effectively.


May is Speech and Hearing Month* in Canada. Older adults are at higher risk of developing speech difficulties, or hearing loss, due to age-related changes* and conditions such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease or dementia, reports the Canadian Geriatrics Society (CGS).

If speech or hearing problems aren’t addressed, these can affect communication, social and emotional health,* and quality of life, according to Speech-Language and Audiology Canada (SAC), and increase the risk of falls* and cognitive decline.* Early assessment, detection and treatment of speech and hearing problems, along with practical strategies, can improve communication, social interactions, health and quality of life,* says CGS.

Here are tips to help older adults with hearing or speech difficulties communicate more effectively:

  1. Screen for hearing loss
    Schedule routine hearing tests every two years,* starting at age 60, and test annually if hearing loss is detected, advises HealthLink BC.

  2. Wear properly fitted hearing aids
    The Canadian Hearing Society reports 90% of people with hearing loss can improve communication with property fitted hearing aids,* counselling or environmental changes.

  3. Consult a speech-language pathologist or audiologist.
    If you suspect a problem, audiologists can identify and treat hearing loss, auditory and balance problems,* says SAC. Speech-language pathologists can assess and treat speech, language, voice, swallowing and cognitive communications disorders.

  4. Reduce noise and choose good lighting.
    TV, radio, running water or other people talking can interfere with hearing or understanding. Limit background noise or move to a quiet area to talk,* suggests the Alberta College of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologist (ACLPAO). Good lighting helps you see facial expressions and lip movements.

  5. Take advantage of visual information
    Watch the faces and gestures of people talking to you to make it easier to understand what you’re hearing,* says McMaster University.

  6. Make speech more understandable.
    Look at the person you’re talking to, make eye contact and don’t speak too quickly.* Use gestures and facial expressions to enhance your message, advises icommunicate Speech and Communication Therapy.

  7. Wear your dentures.
    If you have dentures, wear them to communicate effectively, says ACSLPA. Dentures can improve speech* by replacing missing teeth, after an initial adjustment, advises the American College of Prosthodontists.

  8. Be calm and take your time.
    Misunderstandings in hearing or speaking are more likely when a person is upset, stressed or tired,* says ACSLPA. When talking about a sensitive topic, pause, take a deep breath and gather your thoughts, or defer the conversation until you feel more relaxed.

*The following sources provided references for this blog, in order of appearance:

1. Speech-Language & Audiology Canada. “Speech & Hearing Month.” (2019), online: https://www.sac-oac.ca/news-events/speech-hearing-month
2. Canadian Geriatrics Society. “Communication health and aging: Caring for older adults.” (2016), online: http://canadiangeriatrics.ca/2016/05/volume-6-issue-1-communication-health-and-aging/
3. Speech-Language & Audiology Canada. “Communication health and aging.” (2015), online: https://www.sac-oac.ca/sites/default/files/resources/communication_health_and_aging_brochure_web_en.pdf?_ga=2.192691114.1615064791.1554023619-2094722580.1553023338
4. John Hopkins Medicine. “Hearing loss linked to three-fold risk of falling.” (2012), online: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/hearing_loss_linked_to_three_fold_risk_of_falling
5. Canadian Hearing Society. “Research review: Hearing loss and cognitive decline.” (2019), online: https://www.chs.ca/blog/research-review-hearing-loss-and-cognitive-decline
6. Canadian Geriatrics Society. “Communication health and aging: Caring for older adults.” (2016), online: http://canadiangeriatrics.ca/2016/05/volume-6-issue-1-communication-health-and-aging/
7. HealthLinkBC. “Hearing loss in adults.” (2017), online: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/hearing-loss-adults
8. Canadian Hearing Society. “Facts and figures.” (2013), online: https://www.chs.ca/facts-and-figures
9. Speech-Language & Audiology Canada. “Communication health and aging.” (2015), online: http://acslpa.ab.ca/?wpfb_dl=100
10. Alberta College of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists. “Communicating with seniors with speech, language and/or hearing difficulties.” (2018), online: http://acslpa.ab.ca/?wpfb_dl=100
11. McMaster University. “Hearing loss, part 4: When should I get my hearing assessed and what can be done for hearing problems?” (2014), online: https://www.mcmasteroptimalaging.org/blog/detail/blog/2014/09/30/hearing-loss-part-4-when-should-i-get-my-hearing-assessed-and-what-can-be-done-for-hearing-problems
12. icommunicate Speech & Communication Therapy. “Adult speech difficulties.” (2019), online: https://www.icommunicatetherapy.com/adult-communication-difficulties-2/adult-speech-hearing-difficulties-deafness/adult-speech-difficulties/
13. Alberta College of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists. “Communicating with seniors with speech, language and/or hearing difficulties.” (2018), online: http://acslpa.ab.ca/?wpfb_dl=100
14. Alberta College of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists. “Communicating with seniors with speech, language and/or hearing difficulties.” (2018), online: http://acslpa.ab.ca/?wpfb_dl=100
15. American College of Prosthodontists. “Dentures.” (2019), online: https://www.gotoapro.org/dentures/
16. Alberta College of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists. “Communicating with seniors with speech, language and/or hearing difficulties.” (2018), online: http://acslpa.ab.ca/?wpfb_dl=100