Dealing with elder adults and senior citizens can be incredibly difficult. All of us, at some point, have experienced their seemingly strange behavior, the incessant talk about things that seem irrelevant to us, not taking the prescribed medications, and the frequent emotional outbursts. These small problems, however, can turn into a major issue for those in regular contact with senior citizens, particularly the caregivers working in an assisted living facility.

The first step towards resolving this dilemma is to improve your communication. Whenever you are interacting with senior citizens, you must choose your words carefully. If you don’t approach your conversations with utmost care, you will get worst reactions irrespective of your good intentions.

Better communication with seniors begins with understanding how much damage your words can cause to the seniors who already feel alone and neglected. If you care about the residents in your assisted living facility, you should avoid saying the following eight things when speaking to them.

1. “Sweetie” Or “Honey”

Infantilizing elder adults under your care is downright patronizing. Most adults don’t like to be called “honey,” “dear,” or “sweetie,” or any other pet name at all. Do not call them anything that you would also call a person under age ten, including “dear,” “sweetie,” “honey,” or worst of all, “young lady” or “young man.” You can call them “Sir” or “Ma’am,” which is a general title of respect applicable to all adult men and women. However, calling them by their names is the best way to open a conversation.

2. What’s It Like to Be Your Age?

Senior citizens are not different; they are merely their own category. However, asking them, “What is it like to be your age?” implies you are treating them as different people. Plus, old age brings plenty of health issues that most senior citizens don’t want to discuss with anyone. So, never open a dialogue with this question.

If you want to strike a personal conversation, try a more subtle approach such as “Tell me, Frank, how has the “culture of senior high” changed since you graduated?” Besides, if a senior resident wants to share something with you, they are more likely to do it on their own.

3. How Can You Forget That?

Short-term memory loss is a common complaint among older adults. In fact, they often lose short-term memory before long-term. As a result, they tend to forget all kinds of small things such as where they put their glasses or cane. Such memory lapses can be frustrating. However, this doesn’t mean you should be snapping and asking, “How can you forget that?” repeatedly.

You can try placing a few Post-it notes on the desk, fridge and the bathroom mirror as reminders. Remind them in a gentle tone. Saying something such as, “You are likely to trip and fall if you forget to keep your glasses handy, resulting in a serious injury.” can keep the tone light. Most, importantly, don’t lose your patience as impatience is what triggers the hurtful demeanor of conversation.

4. You Could Do That If You Really Tried

As a caregiver, you must have heard that you must encourage senior residents to participate in different activities and routine tasks to avoid loneliness. However, there is a thin line between encouragement and compulsion. The remark, “You could do that if you actually tried” implies compulsion, not encouragement.

Just because a senior citizen is in a physically fit condition, doesn’t mean he/she should go out there and play football. They need start with manageable activities such as a stroll in the garden. Plus, you need to stop when the senior citizen says so. Forcing them into doing things they don’t like isn’t going to help anyone including you and your colleagues.

5. I Just Showed You How to Do That Yesterday

Whether it is handling the new TV remote or making a video call with their children, learning new technology can be a challenge for most elder adults. However, with patience, you can teach them to use the latest gadgets. Most cable operators and even cell phone operators provide senior-friendly gadgets that make the learning process a lot easier.

Alternatively, you can print the step-by-step instructions in a large font and leave them near the TV remote. You can also contact volunteers from the nearest senior citizen center, high school, community center or college to teach basic internet and computer skills to the senior residents at your assisted living.

6. You Already Told Me That

We all have the tendency to repeat ourselves at some point. However, we often get upset with senior citizens as they repeat themselves too often. You must have heard those Vietnam War stories from a war veteran so often, you could repeat them word-to-word, in your sleep. But, as a responsible caregiver, it is your job to listen to these repetitions with patience over and over again.

7. Why Is Your Room or Bed So Messy?

Keeping the room and bed tidy becomes increasingly difficult in old age, particularly if you are suffering from ailments such as arthritis. Aging also brings a variety of hygiene and cleanliness issues to the forefront. As a caregiver, you have to deal with these issues regularly. So, instead of being harsh, help them with the housework.

8. Let Me Give You a Hand

Though the senior residents in your community will need help with some housework, don’t go overboard with helping, particularly if they can get around on their own. Promoting their independence not only promotes their sense of achievement, but also gives them assurance that they can control certain aspects of their lives. So, let them be as self-sufficient as possible. For example, if they can take a stroll or use a computer on their own, let them do it.


Though dealing with senior citizens can be difficult at times, as a caregiver, it is your responsibility to allow them to live as respectable individuals. You will have to connect and reconnect with them to build a better relationship. None of this sounds easy, but avoiding the above eight comments when speaking to elder adults can help resolve this dilemma.

What have you done to improve your relationship with the senior citizens in your assisted living facility? Let us know in the comments section below.

Featured image: Maxpixel

Evan Thompson, CEO and founder of Senior.One has a long standing interest in finding solutions for seniors. He helps connect senior citizens and their family members with elder care service providers and find the resources they need in one place. He offers information on nursing homes, hospice, financial planning, adult care, lifestyle and assisted living facilities in Albuquerque. He provides information on housing, medical professionals, financial planning services, and lifestyle options.

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