Communication Setbacks

By Doug Mayberry

December 9, 2019 4 min read

Q: It's getting harder and harder for our family to talk to my dad. He's in his early 90s and still up and moving, but he's no longer on top of it.

Our main problem is that he doesn't make sense. He starts talking about topics without any introduction, so we spend several minutes in confusion. He also doesn't seem to listen to our responses consistently.

Even when we seem to be communicating well, we might find out 10 minutes later that we were talking about two entirely different things. It's very frustrating!

How can we talk to each other more effectively?

A: Be patient, and ask questions.

Slow down when necessary. Cognitive decline is a natural part of aging but very frustrating for all involved. Being patient will allow you the opportunity to understand each other a little better.

Consider that hearing issues may be a contributing factor.

When seniors can't hear well, many often blindly agree to whatever you say. Hearing problems can be frustrating or embarrassing, and many people often underplay the severity of their hearing loss.

While this may make the conversation move forward fluidly, it can be hard to know if you actually understand each other.

Don't be afraid to repeat a question or ask for clarification. If you're not sure what he's talking about, ask for confirmation. Making sure that you're on the same page early on will help you avoid long, awkward silences.

Additionally, it's helpful to remember that cognitive abilities vary over time and throughout the day. Most seniors are most clear during the morning and early afternoon, with a decline in the evening. If you need to have a serious discussion, plan it for earlier in the day.

Remember, one day you'll be in the same boat. A little empathy goes a long way! — Emma, Doug's granddaughter


Q: My daughter and son-in-law are planning a big Christmas celebration, as always. This year, my husband and I are feeling nervous about traveling for an hour there and back — especially late at night when people have been drinking!

On the other hand, we definitely don't want to be left out of the festivities. This is the only time during the year that we see some of our family members who live out of state.

What can we do to make sure we make it without having to worry?

A: Holiday travel is widely disliked for a reason. Roads are crowded. Nonlocal drivers make accidents more likely, and many people are in a rush to get somewhere.

However, adjusting your plan can help you maximize your enjoyment of the holiday.

One suggestion is to split your travel up between two days. Staying the night at a hotel or someone's house will help you avoid crazy traffic.

If possible, consider carpooling with someone else or using a driving service.

What time does it start? Most seniors find driving most difficult during the evening, due to decreased night vision. Another suggestion is to leave the party earlier than usual.

If the party starts later in the day, your best option is probably to stay somewhere local.

Your age shouldn't have to get in the way of living your life! Instead, adapt your plans to fit your changing needs and abilities. — Doug

Doug Mayberry makes the most of life in a Southern California retirement community. Contact him at [email protected] Emma, Doug's granddaughter, helps write this column. To find out more about Doug Mayberry and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: soyfigarella at Pixabay

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