Talking – It can pose a problem!

Older people with illness or impairments such as hearing loss or memory changes often report communication predicaments where they are ignored or patronized- often by service workers but sometimes by family members as well.  The most common concern is when a younger companion is addressed rather than the older person himself, sometimes leading to an extended conversation about him in his presence.  Like being ignored, the use of a baby talk tone of voice (high pitch, exaggerated intonation) conveys disrespect and implies incompetence.

With colleagues, I have researched these communication predicaments and examined selective assertive approaches to overcoming them. Selective assertiveness involves choosing when to take a stand, using politeness markers appropriate for the importance of the request or complaint and the level of authority (e.g., hospital vs community), and expressing oneself calmly, confidently, and directly.  For more information, see  Ryan (2010) Overcoming Communication Predicaments; Ryan and Bannister (2009) Ability Speaks: Talking with a Person with Disability.

Poems on Communication Predicaments from Celebrating Poets over 70:

Old Women by Frieda Feldman

They Say I Say by Joyce Harries

Gracious Lady by Barbara Rexford White

I Don’t Do Old by Sterling Haynes

Second Journey Visioning Councils

“Exploring Community and Interdependence in Later Life”

This intensive three-day experience will be an inspiring exploration of the role of community in the second half of life. Discussion will move from our personal needs for community to how we support each other as we strive to live more expansive lives and create supportive, caring models of community responsive to the needs of later life.

 April 11-14, Chapel Hill NC

Oct. 31-Nov 3, San Francisco area (Burlingame, CA)


Loss Of Large Print Book Format – Oliver Sacks

Noted author Oliver Sacks, neurologist and anthropologist of the brain, laments the loss of large print book format as he deals with his own impaired vision.

Practice: Revive the Lost Art of Letter Writing

This blog outlines how to deepen the spirituality of writing personal letters, a waning art in which we writers of a certain age can wisely engage.

Finding Poetry in Cancer

Feelings experienced while living with cancer can flow into poetry, which can be healing.

Civic Engagement for Writers

Friendly visitors volunteer to speak with individuals in need of care – to engage them in a meaningful way and often provide respite to caregivers.  As writers, we can attune ourselves to the particular communication needs of different individuals – variations due to background, personality, and education as well as current illness and living situation. We can attend to non-linguistic cues such as tone of voice, eye contact, posture, and facial expressions for feedback about how well we are handling the conversation.  We can experiment with pauses and silence.

Writing Exercise

Write a dialogue between you and someone in your life with illness or impairment. Write about your appreciation for your relationship and the uncertainty you experience about how to talk with them – whether you come across as uncaring or intrusive, whether you can speak frankly or should protect them, how sometimes you find yourself speaking for them and about them in their presence,  why you don’t visit as often as you’d like or why you think you need to distance yourself, etc.   This could be a dialogue with a loved one no longer living.

Book Review

The Etiquette of Illness: What to Say When You Can’t Find the Words

Susan P. Halpern;   New York NY: Bloomsbury, 2004.

‘Wounded healer’ Susan Halpern offers wisdom concerning what to say in a wide range of illness situations.  She speaks from her experience as a social worker and psychotherapist counselling people with serious illness and as a person with repeated bouts of cancer.

This informative guide outlines concrete ways for both conversational partners to improve communication –the friend, family member, or even professional and the ill person herself. More importantly, the many anecdotes from both perspectives create an open attitude toward reaching out to those who are ill – trying to understand their feelings and doing kind deeds – rather than hiding in our uncertainty.  TO READ MORE>> RyanReview-Halpern-Etiquette of illness

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With this photo… I bid you adieu,