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We Need Better Communication with Seniors

In today’s aging society, we must promote and adapt our technologies and communications to better support seniors. Age-friendly products and services are desperately needed.

Aging is a 100% certainty. With age, comes changes. Changes in the way we talk to each other, changes in the way we process information, changes in the way we express ourselves. These changes necessitate a modification in the way we communicate with Seniors.

Our rapidly aging society is forcing us to adapt to a new reality that seniors, while consuming the largest portion of healthcare dollars, also represents the fastest growing demographic of the 21st century.

With over 10,000 people turning 65, daily, there is also an interesting gender divide: 52% of seniors aged 65 are women, however, women account for 75% of the senior population aged 90 years or older.

As we age

Our eyesight tends to depreciate, consequently we need to read larger fonts. Our brains seem to process information more slowly, requiring complex statements take longer to process. Even speech is impacted by a choice of words. Words which held meaning 50 years ago, no longer retain the same meaning today. New words today hold little meaning to the senior.

Fact: 80% of seniors have lower literacy skills than the general population[1]. This is not a reflection on intelligence or education, quite the contrary, it is the result of physical and mental changes of aging. Seniors today are much better educated than seniors even 40 years ago.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do say: Seniors, older persons or older adults.
  • Don’t say: the aged, the elderly, feeble or senile.
  • Do treat seniors with respect.
  • Don’t treat seniors like children.

Lowered literacy skills, in spite of higher education, affects how we communicate with seniors. The effectivity of the written word is diminished when it comes to impacting health, safety and consumer choices. Complicated forms, doctor’s diagnosis, reading medication containers, balancing a cheque book, even understanding the effect of not taking medications on time are different. Many seniors ask the same question: Did I take my pills this morning?

Even though 61% of seniors live in busy urban centers, seniors are subject to emotional changes including loneliness, isolation, worry about becoming dependent on others, fears about security and the inability to perform, physically and non-physically, as well as when younger.

Remember, limited literacy does not imply limited comprehension. Rather, it suggests new ways to communicate the same information is needed. A message to a millennial is markedly different than a message to a senior.

Communications and marketing to seniors must be rethought.

Seniors need to bond with people or even technology, to alleviate loneliness and feel connected. After overcoming initial trepidation and novelty of a new tablet, seniors bond strongly with the device.

It’s a fact that getting online can help the elderly feel more connected to family and friends, as well as providing them with useful information[2].

Clarity

Seniors need clear, concise explanations followed by confirmations of understanding. Seniors need larger fonts, big buttons to press, better visual and audible cues to take action. Many seniors are proud to use new technologies, but to use them requires simplified instructions, illustrations and ideally, personal assistance. More specifically, the go-to resources for clarification are usually family members, friends or others with whom the senior has a trust or bond. Convincing a senior of their ability to use a new technology product or gadget requires thought, skill and a better understanding of how seniors process information.

Acoustics

Sound must be adaptable to the target audience. Any device providing audible sounds, speech or guidance must have settings to allow tuning of quality and volume. Seniors are often frustrated with complex answering systems and poorly executed, garbled, announcements.

In many cultures, the word of mouth is preferred over written information. Adding voice biometrics and playback are increasingly important.

Language

Any product must support multiple languages. In Canada, French and English are essential. In America, Spanish and English are mandatory as seniors must be made comfortable with a device operating in their native or preferred language.

Accessibility

senior using tablet to surfThe fastest growing demographic of the internet are seniors. The hunger for knowledge persists even as we age. However, web sites must better adapt to the needs of seniors, if they want to retain them. Simple concepts include non-compressed fonts, clear and concise positive statements, questions phrased as Yes/No answerable, illustrations to simplify concepts, short and clear video and audio, simple navigation of web pages, icons with textual explanations are just a few examples.

Confirmation: Test, Test, Test

The best way to determine if you have hit the mark is by testing. Individual followed by group testing strategies will quickly reward the effectivity of your message. The best judges are the intended audience.

In Summary: Large, Loud, Clear, Slow

  • Seniors are very smart but may process information a little differently
  • If it sounds fishy to you, it will sound fishy to a senior
  • Comfort is more important than conciseness
  • Size does matter – large text is better than small text
  • Verbal is better than written, but written should also be available

Stopping Ageism

In today’s aging society, we must promote and adapt our technologies and communications to better support seniors. Age-friendly products and services are desperately needed. Realistically, when we develop programs to assist seniors, to facilitate continued work, to help seniors remain independent, longer, we inadvertently help ourselves.

While it is recognized that seniors have long made valuable contributions to society, the hard truth is they never stopped. Recent $200M donations to McGill University, $100M to the University of Toronto and countless others major gifts by alumni/seniors effectively provides a better education and care for others. Yes, global warming is an international problem, but so is global aging. The time has come to focus on our seniors, beginning with better communications.

[1] Turcotte, Martin, and Grant Schellenberg. A Portrait of Seniors in Canada, 2006. Cat. No. 89-519-XIE. Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 2007

[2] Tablets can help elderly cross the ‘digital divide’ by Michigan State University, 2015.

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