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6 Medical Conditions Linked to Elderly Communication Problems

Written by OurParents Staff
 about the author
5 minute readLast updated February 12, 2024

Maintaining clear communication with your aging loved ones is essential for ensuring their comfort and well-being. However, as seniors age, various factors can impede effective communication. Medical conditions and cognitive changes are common culprits that can hinder a senior’s ability to communicate, negatively affecting their overall quality of life. If your loved one is struggling with communication barriers, consult with their health care provider to understand the underlying causes and seek appropriate treatments.

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1. Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can damage areas of the brain that are responsible for comprehension and speech. As Alzheimer’s progresses, it can affect a person’s ability to communicate and understand.
There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, but treatment can sometimes help delay or manage symptoms.
If your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, it may be helpful to adapt your communication patterns to their needs. This could look like maintaining eye contact, shortening and simplifying sentences, and using nonverbal cues.

2. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

2. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also commonly referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive disease that can cause difficulty speaking and swallowing, muscle atrophy, and weakness.[01] There is currently no cure for ALS, and communication with your loved one can become challenging as the disease progresses. Working with an occupational therapist and speech-language pathologist can help mitigate communication problems in the early stages.

3. Hearing loss

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, one in three people over the age of 60 experience hearing loss, and half of seniors 75+ have hearing problems.[02] Hearing loss that goes unnoticed may also be associated with other conditions. Some studies link untreated hearing loss to an increased risk of dementia and depression in adults.[03]
Signs of hearing loss include avoiding social interactions, frequently asking conversation partners to repeat themselves, and listening to the radio or television at unusually loud volumes.[04]
If you suspect an aging loved one is having difficulty with hearing loss, schedule a doctor’s appointment. An audiologist can diagnose any hearing issues and determine if a hearing aid or other sound-enhancing devices are appropriate.

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4. Multiple sclerosis (MS)

Although multiple sclerosis, or MS, is typically diagnosed before old age, many seniors live with the disease.[05] MS can cause difficulty with both speech and understanding, and research shows that half of those with MS face communication difficulties.[06]
The National MS Society offers a comprehensive guide on speech problems for MS patients and their loved ones, providing practical tips for navigating the disease. For example, individuals with MS can use a recorder to help correct speech issues. It’s important for family members to monitor communication with aging loved ones who have MS, as seniors with the disease may not recognize their own speech problems.

5. Parkinson’s disease

Around one million people in the U.S. alone are living with Parkinson’s disease.[07] This condition results from damage to a region of the brain responsible for speech, coordination, and movement. As Parkinson’s progresses, it can affect a person’s fluency, voice, and ability to articulate words. In the later stages of the disease, speech can become difficult to understand.[08]
If your loved one is having communication problems related to Parkinson’s, your loved one’s doctor may recommend treatments like the following:
  • Communication-oriented strategies: Involves educating and empowering the listener to better understand the person with Parkinson’s. For example, family members of people with Parkinson’s are taught active listening to help them understand their loved ones.
  • High-tech alternative communication: Includes using an app on a tablet to communicate or using a computer that can speak for the user, sometimes called a speech-generating device.[09]
  • Speaker-oriented treatments: Helps people with Parkinson’s work on their speech problems independently with instruction and practice.[10]
Aphasia is a disorder that impairs a person’s ability to use and understand language. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the leading cause of aphasia is stroke.[11] There are several different types of aphasia, and symptoms vary from person to person. Treating the condition that is causing aphasia and speech therapy can help relieve symptoms.

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The importance of addressing elderly communication barriers early on

Noticing changes in how your aging loved ones talk or understand the world around them is important to maintaining a high level of care. These changes, even if small, might signal health issues. It’s a good idea to discuss these changes with their doctor to find the right ways to help. Every person’s situation is unique, and the solutions should be tailored to their specific needs.
Ultimately, even if your loved one finds it hard to communicate, it doesn’t mean they have lost their independence or desire to engage with others. There are many supportive options available to make daily life easier. Our Senior Care Advisors are here to guide you to the best senior living arrangements that meet your loved one’s needs.


  1. National Association of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2023). Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

  2. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Age-Related Hearing Loss (Presbycusis).

  3. Li, C. M., Zhang, X., Hoffman, H. J., Cotch, M. F., Themann, C. L., & Wilson M. R. (2014, April). Hearing Impairment Associated With Depression in US Adults. JAMA.

  4. National Institute on Aging. (2023, January 19). Hearing Loss: A Common Problem for Older Adults.

  5. Yorkston, K. M., Bourgeois, M. S., & Baylor, C. R. (2012, May). Communication and aging.Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America.

  6. Parkinson’s Foundation. Statistics.

  7. Willis, A. W. (2013). Parkinson disease in the elderly adult. Missouri Medicine.

  8. American Speech Language Hearing Association. (2024). Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).

  9. Tjaden, K. (2008). Speech and Swallowing in Parkinson’s Disease. Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation.

  10. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. (2017, March 6). Aphasia.

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OurParents Staff

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