Issue 2.22 – Communication Barriers

“It’s nice to finally touch base,” Hazel said. And it was nice. She and Charlie had not spoken to their son in some time, not because he hadn’t called, but because they simply hadn’t been in their suite much these days. Though Millie’s condition was still touch-and-go, she was stable enough to have visitors even if she was not conscious of them. Hazel and Charlie had been making visits to the hospital to be of some help to Deanna, and Hazel found comfort in being able to at least hold Millie’s hand and sit with her. When they weren’t at the hospital, they were busying themselves in the many distractions available at the manor. Hazel had even started going to yoga classes again, just to get her mind off things. Charlie had his friends to enjoy cards and pool with, and spending a lot of time with Sunita and Aarav, who were getting more comfortable with their surroundings each day.

“It’s ok mom,” John said, “I know you and dad have been busy. And that’s a good thing!” John was happy his parents were as active as they were, but it did worry him that it had been weeks since he had been able to get a hold of them. “You know mom, you really need to check your voicemail, or maybe it’s time to get a cell phone.” Hazel let out a sigh. “I don’t want a cell phone. I tried to use Catherine’s one time and it’s too difficult. Trying to tap little tiny numbers on a screen is frustrating. Then there’s the texting thing and messages. I’m not good at that stuff John.” John understood his mom’s reluctance, but was determined to make his point. “Mom, I have to be able to get a hold of you somehow. There are accessibility features on most cell phones nowadays. I’ve been talking with Catherine. She wants to take you and dad out shopping for a phone, and she’ll make sure to get one you can use,” John offered. “No. I don’t want one!” Hazel retorted. “I don’t want to carry around something expensive like that, and I’d likely forget it when I go out or break it. You will just have to be patient with us. Or call at a better time. You always call in the middle of supper time. We are always in our suite after dinner. 8pm would be ideal.”

John was getting frustrated. “Mom, I can’t call at 8pm…that’s 10pm my time. I’m in bed by then.” Hazel was not pleased. “Well then, call in the morning. I’m up at the crack of dawn…6:30am.” John tried his best to bite his tongue. “Mom, that’s 8:30am my time and I’m at work. I’ve even tried calling during the weekends, but you and dad are always out.” Hazel thought for a moment. “Well, maybe we just need a set time then. We could try something like that. I do miss talking with you John.” John let out a calming breath, “I do too mom. I am delighted that you and dad are having a wonderful time at the Manor…this is exactly what Catherine, James and I wanted for you.”

John and Hazel talked for a while. John shared stories about the family out east, being sure to provide a lot of detail on how his grandbabies (Charlie and Hazel’s great grandchildren) were growing and what they were doing. Charlie took the earpiece from Hazel a few times to listen-in as well. John tried to explain how speaker phone worked so that they could both talk to him at the same time, but he could sense he was only confusing his mom.

“I still think you need a cell phone,” John said at the end of the conversation. “I’ll look into it,” Charlie promised. “It’s just important in case there is an emergency. You should get one. Mom doesn’t need to use it if she doesn’t want to, but with all the time you’re spending out and about, it would be a good thing to have. Hopefully mom will see how important it is to have around too and learn to use it.” “You’re probably right John,” Charlie admitted. “I’m also going to get Catherine to come over to show you how to check your voicemail on your phone and use the speaker function. I know it’s a different set-up from your phone you had at the house, but you have to learn how to use these things.” Charlie just grumbled. “All this new fandangled stuff gives me a headache.” John just laughed, “I know dad. I had to learn to use it all too.”

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There can be a number of communication barriers for seniors. Challenges can be due to sight, hearing and cognitive limitations. New systems and technologies can also create difficulties, as many devices are designed for people with adaptive hand-eye coordination, good fine motor skills and no issues with hearing. Learning curves can be steep for individuals not familiar with things most take for granted these days.

Sometimes communication barriers can simply be the result of differing schedules. Many seniors become “busier” when they move into a seniors community, because of the congregate living environment. In environments with a higher level of care and supports, staff may be able to notify residents that family members have been trying to call, but in independent living, where the resident is responsible for their own telecommunications, it becomes trickier.

Have you had any challenges with communications? How did you handle it? What advice would you have for Charlie & Hazel and their family members?

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