How to communicate better with your grandparents during coronavirus

An Ariel University professor gives three suggestions to both speak, and listen to, the elderly personnel, to ease communication for both sides.

Two elderly women sit on a bench on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem on October 26, 2020.  (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
Two elderly women sit on a bench on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem on October 26, 2020.
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
The world has turned largely virtual in the age of the coronavirus. Elderly people, one of the high-risk groups, have had to adapt to a more technologically based reality, a great challenge, as they often don't know how to use it properly. Prof. Leah Fostick, associate professor at the Department of Communication Disorders at Ariel University, has some suggestions for a virtual quality time.
1. Video over no-video.
When people interact, when they have a conversation, information is gathered not just from what's being said. Critical as well is the context of the words, the intonation they're said in, and the facial expressions and body language that accompany.
While video is certainly no replacement for an in-person interaction, it manages to preserve some of the richness of that experience, Fostick explained. "It is preferable to have a conversation that incorporates video because it maintains visual knowledge as well as auditory input."
Back in October, an Israeli start-up company called Sparko developed an app, geared specifically towards elderly personnel, that turns smartphones into TV remotes, making it easier to interact with the technology.
"This difficult time makes it our duty to keep the Golden Age people of Israel connected... mentally active and strong," Motti Bar, CEO of Sparko Israel, said at the time.
2. Speak low and slow
Next, she explained how it is easier and less exhausting to absorb sounds that are of a lower and longer frequency, as opposed to faster and louder. "When sounds are long and slow," said Fostick, "it is possible to hear them even if they are really quiet."
"If they are short and fast," she added, "it takes a greater strength to catch them. Speech works the same way."
Therefore, if elderly can't hear, the proper response isn't to yell louder, it is to speak slower.
How can we speak slower?
"Speech can be slowed in two ways: to lengthen the words, or to increase the spaces of silence in between them," Fostick explained. Studies show that one method is not necessarily preferable over the other, though it may be easier on the speaker to space their words out better, and not slow them down, as it can feel laborious and unnatural.