The single barrier to communicating with older people is how information is presented in the print form or audibly. The font size on text materials, mainly hard copy and visual displays such as television, can often be too small to read. 

Product labels and instructions, particularly for medications, can be hard to decipher. Page layouts can be confusing if they are not designed for those with vision impairments. Auditory information can be spoken too quickly, and commercials on the radio and television are often run at a speed that can make it hard for those with hearing impairments hard to follow and understand. 

Sometimes the language used is can be too complicated, especially if it contains many unfamiliar terms. Official forms, which older adults must fill out to receive services and benefits, can often be challenging to understand. 

World Health Organization Recommendations 

To make interactions more manageable for older adults, the World Health Organization recommends keeping communications simple, short with larger type. 

Automated answering services can also be problematic; there is too much information given too quickly. The choices are confusing, and there is often no opportunity to speak to a live person. 

Information technology, especially computers and the Internet, is a lifeline for some older adults, providing access to a seemingly never-ending source of information, entertainment, and opportunities to connect with family and friends. 

In Tripoli, older people say the Internet is a good way for them to stay in touch with children who live far away, even those living in other countries. But unfortunately, many older people are left out because they don’t have or use computers and the Internet. 

Bringing Seniors Into 21st Century

Providing affordable public access to computers for older people in community centers, senior centers, public services, and libraries is an important age-friendly feature. 

Computer training, preferably tailored to individual needs, could really level the field. For example, in Halifax, Canada, older people have a permanent Internet tutor who is available to help people individually. 

Collectively, governments, volunteer organizations, and the private sector should be responsible for removing the communication barriers that progressively cut older people off from others, particularly barriers related to poverty, low literacy, and diminished capacity.

Living in the Information Age is a double-edged sword. Never before have people had immediate access to information, but filtering out the noise can be difficult.  Even tech-savvy individuals can find it hard to navigate, let alone older adults unfamiliar with the technology. By starting slowly, elders can be introduced to high-tech communications that allow them to stay connected and better feel involved in their community. 

Age-friendly Communication Checklist

Information Needs 

  • A basic, universal communications system of written and broadcast media and a telephone that reaches every resident. 
  • Regular and reliable distribution of information, which is assured by the government or voluntary organizations. 
  • Information that is disseminated to reach older people close to their homes and conduct their usual daily life activities. 
  • Regular information and program broadcasts of interest to older people offered in both regular and targeted media. 

Oral Communication 

  • Oral communication accessible to older people through public meetings, community centers, clubs, and the broadcast media via individuals responsible for spreading the word one-to-one.
  • People at risk of social isolation need to get information from trusted individuals such as volunteer callers and visitors, home support workers, hairdressers, doormen, or caretakers. 
  • Individuals in public offices and businesses need to provide friendly, person-to-person service on request. 

Printed Information 

  • Printed information including official forms, television captions, and text on visual displays with large type, and the main ideas are shown by clear headings and bold-face types. 

Plain Language 

  • Print and spoken communication using simple, familiar words, in short, straightforward sentences.

Automated Communication and Equipment 

  • Telephone answering services that give instructions slowly and clearly and tell callers how to repeat the message at any time. 
  • Giving users the choice of speaking to a real person or leaving a message for someone to call back. 
  • Electronic equipment, such as mobile telephones, radios, televisions, and bank and ticket machines, with large buttons and big lettering. 
  • Display panels of the bank, postal, and other service machines that are well-illuminated and can be reached by people of different heights. 

Computers and the Internet 

  • There needs to be wide public access to computers and the Internet, at no or minimal charge, in public places such as government offices, community centers, and libraries. 
  • Tailored instructions and individual assistance for users that is readily available.

Resources

The Bend Library offers a Senior Book Club and home delivery for audiobooks. The Oregon Senior News, an online publication designed to serve the needs of those over 55. It’s a bi-monthly newsletter. It is written by seniors for seniors. In addition to having useful recaps of last month, the site has information on Social Security, estate laws, food services, and weather updates. 

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