A grandmother and grandchild sit on a courtyard bench on a peaceful day and hold hands as they talk.

Eat Your Veggies and Respect Your Elders: How to Be Effective When Interpreting for Our Aging Population

There are several reasons why older populations need interpretation services.

Some people aren’t comfortable learning a new language or communicating in a foreign language in general. For some, stroke aftermath or dementia onset may affect their ability to communicate in their secondary language. While others may have great conversational skills in multiple languages, but they prefer the certainty of their mother tongue when communicating with their medical providers and discussing important care decisions.

Regardless of why an individual with a non-English language preference (NELP) needs an interpreter, the tips will help when interpreting for our aging population.

Arm yourself with patience

It’s often difficult to communicate with an elderly person. They may have difficulty speaking or hearing you. They could be distracted by pain or lost in dementia. Their speech may often be repetitive or trail off. Remember to be kind, keep your cool, and do not get frustrated.

Avoid omissions and editorializing

While some summarization of repetitive elements may be OK, never forget that difficulty producing logical sentence structures could be diagnostically relevant and must always be disclosed to the English speaker.

Adjust your expectations

The individual you’re interpreting for might be nothing like your grandmother or other elderly people you know and might have very different core values and preferences. Keep an open mind and remember to listen well.

Anticipate end-of-life discussions

And be ready to interpret those uncomfortable subjects with grace and understanding.

Advance your vocabulary

Aging often means more medical specialists, and more advanced terminology, including DME equipment and palliative care. Write down the new terms you encounter on the calls and commit them to memory.

Abstain from advocacy

Don’t rush to advocate.* In a medical environment, the very concept of patient care is built upon the notion of respect toward the patient’s autonomy and wishes. By being quick to intervene in the conversation, we may unknowingly undo the work the provider is trying to accomplish.

*Unless the situation is potentially threatening to the individual’s well-being.

And don’t forget an extra dose of patience

We play an important role in our aging NELP population’s lives as interpreters, providing the comfort and stability they need to live their golden years with grace. Frustration is only natural when calls get difficult, but if you keep these tips in mind, you’ll ace these interactions.

Interested in partnering with CLI? Check out our careers page for more information.