Communication Disorders in Aging

 

By Raymond H. Hull, PhD, Editor of Communication Disorders in Aging

Older adults are, in most instances, no different than younger ones other than the fact that they have grown older. They have the same personality they had when they were young; maybe it’s a little stronger, but is basically the same. They look the same except for some wrinkles and skin that may have begun to sag, and are maybe a little shorter due to the pull of gravity over the years.  Their voice will be the same except for the possibility of some change due to the aging vocal mechanism, so pitch may raise slightly, and they may speak a little louder due to a decline in their hearing. Their walking gait may slow just a little since they may not exercise as much as they used to and their joints might ache. They may be wearing reading glasses since there may be a change in their near vision. But, everyone is different, and some people age faster and more dramatically than others. When I was in my first year of graduate school, one of my classmates by the name of Bob was, at age 23, bald, with an ashen—somewhat prematurely wrinkled—face and had a voice that resembled that of an older man. In other words, he looked and acted “old”, at least to me. So, we are all aging differently. I like to think of myself as a younger/older person, but perhaps I am deluding myself into visualizing myself as such.

The one aspect of growing older that seems to be common is that disorders of communication are observed more frequently. Those are the result of stroke and other related diseases and disorders of the peripheral and central nervous system, Parkinson’s disease, hearing impairment, the influences of drugs and medications on their ability to communicate, and the various forms, or shades, of dementia. Further, environmental factors can have a greater impact on the ability of older adults to hear to a greater degree than younger adults.

Counseling must be adapted to take into consideration the age and status of the older adult as compared to the counseling strategies used with younger adults and children. And, if an older adult experiences a dramatic change in their ability to communicate with family and friends, the result can be even more devastating in light of the many other changes that frequently occur as a person ages. For example, the death of a spouse, difficulties with transportation, financial difficulties, restricted mobility due to physical decline, or the inability to hear, can all influence the ability of an older adult to take advantage of, and respond to, the services of the rehabilitation professional.

The book, Communication Disorders in Aging is designed to help people understand the process of aging, its impact on the human organism, the disorders of communication that are more frequently observed in older adulthood, and the impact of those disorders on them. Most importantly, it provides information on how to serve those individuals who experience the various disorders of communication that can affect them. I hope it helps you to understand the frustrations that approximately 32 million adults over the age of 60 experience as a result of various disorders of communication, and ways we can assist them. That is, in a world of people who may not understand the impact of those disorders on older adults, how best to communicate with them, and importantly, in the many places that are not meant for communication.

The book, Communication Disorders in Aging is intended for use in the academic preparation of all who will serve older adults in a variety of settings, including those in audiology and speech-language pathology, nurses who are preparing to become geriatric nurse practice specialists, those who are preparing to become gerontologists, psychologists, family practice physicians, geriatric medicine specialists, and others who serve or who are preparing to serve older adults.

However, due to the very practical nature of this book, it will also prove to be a wonderful resource for family members and other significant others who, in one way or another, serve older adults who possess disorders of communication. The information contained within this book is that which many persons who know or serve older adults request from me when I speak at conferences and conventions around the U.S., Europe, and Canada.

Raymond H. Hull, PhD, CCC-A/SP, FASHA, FAAA
Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Audiology/Neurosciences
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
College of Health Professions
Wichita State University
Wichita, Kansas  67260-0075

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