Ryan, E. B., Crispin, D., & Daigneault, M. (2014).“In my own words”: Writing down life stories to promote conversation in dementia.  In R. W. Schrauf & N. Mueller (Eds.), Dialogue and dementia: Cognitive and communicative resources for engagement (pp.183-212).  Florence  KY:Psychology Press.

Communication is central to sustaining personhood for individuals with dementia, as demonstrated by the conversation analyses presented earlier in this volume.  Our applied dementia focus concerns the collaborative elicitation of life story fragments in conversation and the use of written recordings of these stories as triggers for future conversation in longterm care settings. In this chapter, we briefly overview one-on-one work with conversational remembering boxes and life story binders.  Then, we present two case studies for a program of group storytelling and life story binders implemented on two hospital units: a Complex Care unit where patients may stay for months or years and a unit for patients with dementia waiting, often for months, placement in Longterm Care. The objective is to record the individuals’ own words to optimize their chances of retrieving stories from their lives for sharing, elaboration, and personal connections with staff, peers, and family.



Ryan, E. B., & Schindel Martin, L. (2011). Using narrative arts to foster personhood in dementia (pp. 193-217).  In P. Backhaus  (Ed.), Communication in Elderly Care. London: Continuum Press.

This chapter will explain narrative arts and their use in the promotion of personhood. The chapter addresses the use of narrative arts such as storytelling, life writing, memory boxes and collaborative poetry, and provides case examples. The clinical implications of narrative arts for the care of persons with dementia as well as staff development needs are also discussed. We begin with a description of our Canadian context for research concerning older adults with dementia.


Ryan, E. B. (2010). Overcoming communication predicaments in later life. In L. Hickson (Ed.), Hearing Care for Adults 2009: Proceedings of the Second International Adult Conference. Phonak: Staefa, Switzerland.
All too often communication problems of older adults are presumed to be solely due to age-related losses. The Communication Predicament of Aging model highlights how negative stereotypes create communication predicaments for older adults, and other related models portray how health professionals and older adults themselves can minimize the social construction of excess disability among older adults. In particular, health professionals can seek to treat older adults as individuals while monitoring automatic social reactions to speak to them in terms of their age and disability. Several of our person perception studies show how hiding a hearing problem may lead to evaluations of lower competence and how assertiveness can work for older adults with hearing or vision impairments. Writing is a special kind of selective assertiveness which can empower older adults, especially those with difficulty in conversation. Audiologists and other health workers can also make a positive impact by fostering selective assertiveness among their clients.


Ryan, E. B., Bannister, K. A., & Anas, A. P. (2009). The dementia narrative: Writing to reclaim social identity. Journal of Aging Studies, 23(3), 145-157.
The social needs of individuals with dementia are often not addressed. Impoverished social interactions can place the person at risk of being negatively positioned by others and without means to assert their unique identity. In seeking strategies to help these individuals reclaim their social and personal identity, we have turned to the analysis of published memoirs by writers with dementia. Selected quotations show that through writing it is possible for an individual with dementia to engage with others in a dialogue that creates meaning and forms identity. Writing renews an individual’s status as a contributing social partner, provides new and positive roles, and introduces empowerment and control. The memoirs demonstrate that dementia can be a time of growth and that authors with dementia construct and project positive new identities, which are full expressions of personhood.

Ryan, E. B., Jin, Y.-S., & Anas, A. P. (2009). Cross-cultural beliefs about memory and aging for self and others: South Korea and Canada. International J Aging and Human Development, 68(3), 185-194.
Young adults in Canada (N = 161) and South Korea (N = 165) rated either themselves or typical others at target ages 25, 45, and 65 years. In both countries, poorer memory was anticipated with each increase in age on all 3 memory belief factors: capacity, change, and locus. Both groups demonstrated a self-protective bias about age-related decline, with Koreans showing a greater effect. These findings demonstrate the cross-cultural generality of negative memory stereotypes of middle and old age and the importance of self-other distinctions in age biases.

Savundranayagam, M. Y., & Ryan, E. B. (2008). Social psychological aspects of communication and aging. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 28(1), 51-72.
Language plays an important role in defining identities in older adulthood. Both self- and others’ perceptions of older adults are reflected through language used by older and younger adults (see recent texts: de Bot & Makoni, 2005; Harwood, 2007; Hummert & Nussbaum, 2001; Nussbaum & Coupland, 2004). In this review, we outline key theoretical perspectives on the study of communication with older adults and provide evidence supporting these perspectives within the context of age stereotypes, intergenerational communication, cross-cultural communication, and health care encounters. Given that communication is an interactive process, we discuss how older adults use language and communication to respond to age stereotypes and adaptively cope with age-related losses. We also discuss communication interventions aimed at improving interactions between care providers and older adults, and opportunities that technology brings to enhance communication within and across generations.

Ryan, E. B., Anas, A. P. & Mays, H. (2008). Assertiveness by older adults with visual impairment: Context matters. Educational Gerontology, 34, 503 – 519.
Within a communication predicament of aging and disability framework, this study examined the impact of two types of contextual variation on perceptions of older adult assertiveness within problematic service encounters. Young (N = 66) and older (N = 66) participants evaluated conversational scenarios in which a visually-impaired older woman responded either passively or assertively to denial of requested assistance with reading needed information. Both older and young participants viewed the assertive older woman as more competent and as more likely to achieve her goals in future conversations than the passive older woman. The assertiveness advantage was greater in the community setting than in the hospital and for the more serious situations. Implications for education are discussed.

Ryan, E. B., Anas, A. P., & Vuckovich, M. (2007). The effects of age, hearing loss, and communication difficulty on first impressions. Communication Research Reports, 24(1), 13-19.

Within a person perception paradigm, young adults (n ¼ 171) evaluated young and older targets with or without hearing loss or communication problems. On anticipated cognitive performance, older targets were rated lower on visual memory and  visuospatial skill but higher on wisdom. Targets with normal hearing and communication difficulty were rated as least competent on the cognitive tasks and most socially distant. Furthermore, the lowest wisdom scores were anticipated for normally hearing young targets exhibiting communication problems. The findings showed that adults of any age were judged less severely for communication difficulties if known to use a hearing aid.


Savundranayagam, M. Y., Ryan, E. B., Anas, A. P., & Orange, J. B. (2007).  Communication & dementia: Staff perceptions of conversational strategies. Clinical Gerontologist, 31(2),47-63.
This study examined the impact of two communication-enhancing strategies used on people with dementia. The strategies were manipulated using scripted staff-resident conversations that were evaluated by 71 long-term care staff participants. We hypothesized that vocal and nonverbal characteristics, along with their communication behaviors would be perceived more positively when staff members used personhood strategies compared to when they used directive language. We examined whether perceptions of the resident depicted identically in the scripts would be more positive in the personhood versus directive conversations. We also considered if simplified language and repetitions would affect the positive impact of personhood on perceptions of staff and residents. In support of our hypotheses, results showed that personhood strategies had positive effects on perceptions of staff and residents. Furthermore, simplified language enhanced those effects by showing staff as less patronizing and residents as more competent. Findings suggest that these strategies can enhance staff-resident interactions.


Ryan, E.B. (2006). Finding a new voice: Writing through health adversity. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 25(4), 423-436.
This memorial tribute to James J. Bradac draws on lessons friends and colleagues learned through his witness of living well with serious disability. Analysis of published disability narratives provides the basis for identifying how writing for self and others empowers persons with acquired disability. Acquiring a disability can threaten a person’s sense of self and ability to communicate effectively with others. Journal writing allows individuals to rediscover their sense of self, to release complex emotions by naming them, and work their way through the many changes in their daily lives. In particular, a person acquiring a disability must learn how to balance efforts to maintain “normality” with the need to accept changes. Writing for others helps the author clarify personal experience, find meaning, and make a valuable social contribution. Specific benefits of the written social voice are outlined in terms of both process and outcomes. Published illness narratives put a face on disability, engender empathy, advocate for a “disability-friendly” society, and show how the human spirit can transcend disability.

Ryan, E. B., Anas, A. P., & Friedman, D. (2006). Evaluations of older adult assertiveness in problematic clinical encounters. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 25(2), 129-145.
Within a Communication Predicament of Aging framework, this study examined assertiveness as an option for older adults confronted with a problematic health care conversation. Older and younger participants evaluated scenarios in which senior client targets with or without hearing loss employed either assertive, passive, or aggressive responses. As predicted, assertive seniors were evaluated as most competent and likely to be satisfied with future encounters. Compared to older adults, young adults gave equivalent ratings for assertiveness but viewed the senior’s passive response especially positively and the aggressive response especially negatively. Hearing loss made no difference in evaluations of the three response styles. Findings are discussed in terms of the benefits for older adults of developing skills in selective assertiveness, with emphasis on their successful management of health care encounters.

Ryan, E. B., Anas, A. P., & Gruneir, A. J. S. (2006). Evaluations of overhelping and underhelping communication: Do old age and physical disability matter? Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 25(1), 97-107.
Older adults and persons with disability experience communication predicaments involving inappropriate help. In a retail setting, we examined the meanings of overhelping and underhelping and how these may be affected by the recipient’s age and (dis)ability status. Young adults (N = 221) were presented with a picture of either a young or older target seated in an armchair or a wheelchair. Participants then read three different conversations across which their target was addressed in professional, overhelping, or underhelping speech styles. Salesperson overhelping style was associated with the most exaggerated intonation. Compared to the professional, overhelping led to downgrading of customer satisfaction and salesperson effectiveness. ‘Blame the recipient’ effects occurred in evaluations of both underhelped and overhelped customers. The customer in a wheelchair was rated more competent than the seated target regardless of age or salesperson style. Future research will focus on assertiveness options for managing needed or unwanted help.

Ryan, E. B., Schindel-Martin, L., & Beaman, A. (2005). Communication strategies to promote spiritual well-being among people with dementia. Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling, 59, 43-55.
Declining communication skills in dementia threaten a person’s sense of self. Building on enduring capabilities, pastoral visitors can significantly enhance spiritual well0being through the use of individualized, person-centred strategies. This article outlines the primary spiritual needs of older adults with dementia and some general strategies to improve communication based on enduring abilities. Detailed examples illustrate how these personhood0-centered strategies can meet spiritual needs by connecting with individuals with dementia through life stories and through helping them to participate in religious life.

Ryan, E. B.,  Byrne, K., Spykerman, H., & Orange, J. B. (2005). Evidencing Kitwood’s personhood strategies: Conversation as care in dementia. In B. H. Davis (Ed.), Alzheimer talk, text and context: Identifying communication enhancement (pp. 18-36).New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ryan, E. B., Bajorek, S., Beaman, A., &  Anas, A. P. (2005).I just want you to know that ‘them’ is me”: Intergroup perspectives on communication and disability.  In J. Harwood & H. Giles (Eds), Intergroup communication: Multiple perspectives (pp. 117-137).New York: Peter Lang Publishing Group.

Ryan, E. B., Pearce, K., Anas, A. P., & Norris, J. E. (2004).    Writing a connection:  Intergenerational communication through stories. In  M. W. Pratt & B. E. Fiese (Eds.), Family stories and the lifecourse:  Across time and generations (pp. 375-398). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
In this chapter, we explore story writing as a means of bridging the generations. First, we briefly review the literature concerning the relationships between grandparents and grandchildren and the role of storytelling within those relationships. Second, we present a narrative analysis of letters and stories written by grandparents for grandchildren and by grandchildren for their grandparents. Major themes from both grandparent and grandchild writings are described in addition to specific benefits associated with inter-generational communication through writing. Finally, we discuss the implications of this study in terms of grandparent-grandchild relationships and the importance for older adults to record their life stories for family.


Hummert, M. L., Garstka, T. A., Ryan, E. B., & Bonnesen, J. L. (2004). The role of age stereotypes in interpersonal communication. In J. F. Nussbaum & J. Coupland (Eds.), The handbook of communication and aging, 2nd edition (pp. 91-114).  Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
The review in first edition of handbook highlighted the complex nature of age stereotypes, showing that they include positive as well as negative views of older individuals. It also revealed that the relationship between age stereotypes and communication was more complex than initially conceptualized. As a resullt, we suggested four research questions  (1) What factors in the communication situation lead to positive or negative stereotyping of older adults? (2) What individual differences between communicators are related to positive or negative stereotyping of older adults? (3) What communication behaviors are associated with positive or negative stereotyping of older adults? and (4) How do the communication behaviors of the conversants affect stereotyping and self-perception processes? In this chapter, we consider recent research on age stereotypes and communication relevant to these questions. The chapter begins with an overview of the literature on age stereotypes (for comprehensive reviews, see Hummert, Shaner, et al., 1995; Hummert, 1999). Two recent advances in research on age stereotyping research deserve  special attention: implicit age stereotyping and self-stereotyping. The chapter then outlines two models of how age stereotypes are involved in the communication process, illustrating how recent … Hummert_Garstka_Ryan_Bonnesen04.pdf

Ryan, E. B., Jin, Y. S., Anas. A. P., & Luh, J. (2004). Communication beliefs about youth and old age in Asia and Canada. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology, 19, 343-360.
Two cross-cultural studies compared beliefs in Asia and Canada about communication in later life. With an expanded version of the Language in Adulthood Questionnaire, respondents rated a young or old adult target on communication skills selected to elicit both negative and positive stereotypes. Chinese, Chinese-Canadian, and Canadian participants were compared in Study 1 while younger and older respondents from South Korea and Canada were contrasted in Study 2. All groups showed negative beliefs about hearing and memory in old age. Positive communication beliefs were also evident for empathy, storytelling and social skills. Participants in Asia showed less stereotyping overall, for both negative and positive beliefs. Significant age interactions in Study 2 reflected positive communication beliefs only for the older participants. In line with recent investigations of the multidimensional impact of Eastern traditions, greater positivity toward older adults was not observed in Asia. This work highlights the importance of assessing both positive and negative age beliefs in cross-cultural comparisons.

Giles, H., Noels, K., Williams, A., Lim, T-S, Ng, S. H., Ryan, E. B., Somera, L. and Ota, H. (2003). Intergenerational communication across cultures: Young people’s perceptions of conversation with family elders, non-family elders, and same-age peers. J. Cross-Cultural Geron., 18, 1-32.
Young adults from three Western (Canada, U.S.A., and New Zealand) and three East Asian (The Philippines, South Korea and Japan) nations completed a questionnaire regarding their perceptions of interactions with family elders, non-family elders, and same-age peers. Results showed that East Asians perceived family elders to be as accommodating as same-age peers, whereas Westerners perceived family elders as more accommodating than their same-age peers. Participants in both cultural blocks indicated an obligation to be most deferential towards non-family elders, followed by family elders, followed by same-age peers. Whereas both groups perceived interactions with same-age peers more positively than with the two older groups, the Western group perceived the older age groups more positively than did East Asians. Intergenerational communication is reportedly be more problematic than intragenerational communication and, consistent with previous findings, this pattern is more evident in East Asian nations on some variables.

Ryan. E. B., Bieman-Copland, S., Kwong See, S. T., Ellis, C. H., & Anas, A. P. (2002). Age excuses: Conversational management of memory failures in older adults. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 57B, 256-267.
The social consequences of appealing to age to excuse memory failure were examined in two vignette-based studies.  In Study 1, 75 Older (M = 72 years) and 78 Young (M = 22 years) adults evaluated forgetful older targets in their 70’s who used their age, lack of ability, lack of effort or the situation to explain forgetting.   In Study 2, 105 Older (M = 72 years) and 105 Young participants  (M = 19 years) evaluated forgetful targets with no specific age given in four excuse conditions (age, ability, situation, and no excuse).  In support of the prediction of positive consequences, age excuses were rated as more believable than situation in both studies and more believable and socially fluent than effort in Study 1.  In support of predictions of negative consequences, both groups in Study 2 rated target persons who used an age excuse to be much older than their peers, and, along with ability excuse users, as eliciting more worry and frustration than the others.  Moreover, young adults showed additional sensitivity to the negative aspects of age excuses in terms of worry and frustration in Study 1 and anticipated repeat forgetting in Study 2.  These results suggest that while age excuses may relieve socially awkward situations, this strategy reinforces negative age stereotyping of the older forgetter.

Ryan et al jg02.pdf

Bieman-Copland, S., & Ryan, E. B. (2001).  Social perceptions of failures in memory monitoring. Psychology and Aging, 16, 357-361.
Can repetitious verbal behavior elicit negative stereotypes about age, memory, and competence? Young adults (N=102. M age 19.3 years) and community-dwelling older adults (N=98, M age 67.3 years) read a script containing a hypothetical conversation between 2 female targets. In thc experimental condition. one of the targets repeated several statements during the conversation. Significant Target X Condition interactions were obtained on measures of perceived age, competence, and memory ability. The results demonstrate that conversational behavior may contribute to negative age related perceptions in thc same way as other external markers of age (e.g., vocal and facial features).

Ryan, E. B., Kennaley, D. E., Pratt, M. W., & Shumovich, M. A. (2000).  Evaluations by staff, residents, and community seniors of patronizing speech: Impact of passive, assertive, or humorous responses. Psychology and Aging, 15, 272-285.
Two studies tested the impact of alternative communication in accommodation strategies. Nursing home staff and residents (and community-residing seniors in Study 2) rated nurse-resident conversational scenarios in which a resident responded passively, directly assertively, or humorously (indirectly assertively) to a patronizing nurse. The nurse then either maintained a patronizing manner or accommodated with a more respectful speech style. Even though all groups devalued the nurse who maintained a patronizing speech style, nursing home residents predictably showed the most acceptance. The directly assertive response by the resident elicited more devaluation of the nonaccommodating nurse than did either passive or humorous responses, but also the least favorable ratings of the resident. Ratings of the humorous response in Study 2 suggested that humor could be a good compromise response style for allowing the receiver of patronizing speech to express opposition to a request, yet still maintain an appearance of competence and politeness.


Ryan, E. B., Meredith, S. D., MacLean, M. J., & Orange, J. B. (1995). Changing the way we talk with elders: Promoting health using the Communication Enhancement Model. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 41(2), 87-105.
Good communication is an essential component of optimal delivery of health care and health promotion efforts. In this article, we address the communication predicament faced by older adults when their opportunities for optimal care are limited by inappropriate communication with formal care providers. We then introduce the Communication Enhancement Model which promotes health in old age by stressing recognition of individualized cues, modification of communication to suit individual needs and situations, appropriate assessment of the health/social problems, and empowerment of both elders and providers. Applications of the Communication Enhancement Model are discussed for two high-risk groups (elders from ethnocultural communities and elders with dementia) to show how it can function as a guide for the development and evaluation of educational interventions with health and social professionals working with elders.

Bieman-Copland, S., Ryan, E. B., & Cassano, J. (1998). Responding to the challenges of late life: Strategies for maintaining and enhancing competence. In D. Pushkar, W. Bukowski, A. Schwartzman, D. Stack & D. White (Eds.), Improving competence across the lifespan (pp. 141-157). New York: Plenum Press.

In this chapter, we describe a lifespan framework of successful aging which includes three primary adaptive mechanisms, namely selection, optimization, and compensation (Baltes & Baltes, 1990; Marsiske, Lang, Baltes & Baltes, 1996). We also discuss the influence of non- aging factors on development. Interventions that have enabled older adults to overcome competence predicaments will be reviewed. These interventions primarily targeted either the older individual, the task at hand, or the social/physical environment in such ways as to break the negative feedback cycle described so eloquently in “The Tale.”