Communication tips for seniors and others with special needs

TAO artists are well known for sharing happiness and providing stimulation and inspiration, through the arts. Our goals are to create client-centered creative arts experiences that involve and engage participants, from the moment we walk into a room or building, until the time we leave. The flexible, creative nature of arts programs allow artists to focus on what participants CAN do, and not their limitations. Think how refreshing and liberating this must be to so many of our program participants!

Here are some continuous quality improvement ideas, to help you on your journey to providing the best arts experiences possible:

  • 80% of our clients are seniors, and statistics show that approximately 50% of seniors in long-term care suffer from Alzheimer’s or related dementias. Often, we see adults reverting to what we consider to be childlike behavior. It is a symptom of their disease and we must show our respect in everything we say and do. Even though a client has messy hair, food on their shirt, cannot speak, etc., they are still adults and need to be treated as such. If you can’t understand what someone is saying, apologize for your limitation, not theirs, and either move on with a smile or engage staff assistance, as appropriate.
  • Place yourself at eye level with a participant when speaking to him/her. If someone is experiencing hearing loss, they may be able hear better when your voice is projected from eye level. Standing above them while speaking may also unintentionally communicate dominance.
  • Acknowledge the feelings you observe, provide reassurance, and try to engage in an activity that will provide comfort, e.g. storytelling, singing, and movement.
  • Use age-appropriate song, story, workshop and project content. There are many beautiful songs and stories that are simple, but profound and adult-oriented. Check TAO’s website for examples.
  • Be patient. You need to allow time for participants to absorb, understand and think about what you have said or what you propose to do in your program. They need to be given time to respond in a manner that suits their capabilities.
  • Restate your message if it is not understood the first time. Rephrase your statement, if necessary, and ask for acknowledgement and feedback. Aim for concise, straight-forward sentences.  Speak clearly and distinctly, using eye contact as often as you can.
  • Pay attention to body language. Most of our communication with one another is unspoken. For example, if you are too close to someone they may lean back or turn their head. Eye contact and a smile go a long way!

The first step to engaging people we serve is effective communication. For more tips, please visit our website, and THANK YOU for all you do.


About maryann4tao

Executive Director at Tidewater Arts Outreach. Former Volunteer Hampton Roads Training Manager and United Way/Salt Lake City Major Gifts Officer.
This entry was posted in Communications, Community Volunteers, Program Development, TAO Programs, Training and Workshops. Bookmark the permalink.

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