Normative Changes in Late Life: The Issue

Although diversity is a hallmark of the senior population, some changes do accompany aging, and even healthy seniors experience losses that can affect their access, level of interest and/or capacity to receive and understandinformation. Do your communications with and for seniors take these changes into account?

  • Sensory changes are a normal part of aging. Changes in visual and hearing acuity can affect an older person’s capacity to absorb information. Changes are seldom abrupt and may be barely noticeable at first. A person may begin to have difficulty hearing clearly if a sound is above or below a certain pitch or if there is background noise. The capacity to see clearly in low light or shadows may decline, or susceptibility to glare may increase.

Aging and Communication

Sensory Change

Types of Communication Affected

Visual Acuity

· product labelling

· signage: public buildings, street signs

· banking machines (glare on screens)

· information available only in print

· televised information

· glossy paper and colour brochure

Hearing Acuity

· interpersonal communication

· public address systems

· telephone

· television and radio

Agility and Mobility

· pushbutton telephone

· banking machines

· kits (to be assembled)

· product packages

· opportunities to see billboards, public transit ads, etc.

Social/Emotional Changes

· more emphasis on personal contact and other information dissemination methods to overcome isolation (e.g. through clubs, church, seniors’ centres)

  • Physical changes include declines in flexibility, strength, speed of execution, fine motor control and hand-eye coordination, which can translate into difficulty manipulating controls and small objects (touchtone telephone buttons, automated banking machines and direct payment keypads, coin-operated devices, household appliances). Diseases such as arthritis, rheumatism and osteoporosis can also affect agility and mobility.
  • Changes in cognitive function, including memory, reasoning and abstract thinking, affect a very small percentage of younger seniors, although the percentage does rise with age. In general, sharp brains tend to stay sharp; cognitive processing may take a little longer, but this is normal aging, not a sign of "senility." Skilful communication (repeating key points in various ways, checking for understanding) can help overcome this.
  • The social changes surrounding aging include changes in income and earning capacity, loss of social networks through retirement and the death of spouse and/or friends, society’s "isolating" attitude toward seniors, the potential for reduced access to transportation and hence to recreational and social activities, and changes in living arrangements.
  • Finally, aging can bring emotional changes, many of them arising from sensory, physical and social changes. They include loneliness, isolation, tension or worry, anxiety about becoming dependent on others, and fears about safety, security and loss of access to activities or services enjoyed when younger.

Retrieved from Public Health Agency of Canada website January 2009.