As an insurance agent who sells Medicare, most of your clients probably fall into the 65 and older population. When you talk to people in this age group, there are several communication do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.

The team at the Agent Survival Guide has everything you need to know about having a successful, respectful conversation with your clients who are 65 plus!

The Proper Terms for Older Adults

Senior citizens? Older adults? The elderly? If you’ve ever been unsure of how to talk to Medicare clients who are over the age of 65, you’re not the only one. The last thing any agent wants to do is offend a client by calling them an “old person.” (Yikes!)

Several studies have been done over the years to see which terminology is the least and most offensive for this age group. After analyzing the results, we’ve found that the term “older” seems to be widely accepted among the population, such as in “older adults,” “older individuals,” or “older Americans.” A large percentage of older adults also seem OK with being called “baby boomers” since it simply indicates the generation in which they were born.

“Seniors” is another option that’s inoffensive. However, “senior citizen” has a negative and patronizing connotation, so you should avoid using it. Using “elderly” is another a big no-no, as it makes people over 65 sound frail and incapable. On the contrary, the word “elder” is generally acceptable, as it conveys a sense of honor and regard (think, respect your elders!).

The following are terms to definitely steer clear of when talking to older adults: “golden years,” “geriatrics,” “positive aging,” and “successful aging.” Note that it’s not just demographic labels that can insult seniors. A word like “still” can also convey negativity, as in still driving or still exercising. Phrases like these imply that seniors are doing something out of the ordinary, when in fact, many of them drive and work out on a daily basis.

It’s essential to practice using the appropriate identifiers when talking to other agents, your field marketing organization, and especially your clients. Getting into the habit of using the right words when you’re talking about older adults will help prevent a slipup when you’re meeting with a client.

It’s essential to practice using the appropriate identifiers when talking to other agents, your field marketing organization, and especially your clients.

Practicing Patience with Medicare Clients

When talking to seniors, and really any client, it’s very important to never talk down to them or be condescending in any way. A lot of the information you share with your clients will probably be brand new to them, and for many, this could be their first time buying a Medicare plan. You may have to go over the same information more than once, but you shouldn’t let this frustrate you. Try to remember their knowledge won’t be up to par with yours and you should always practice patience.

You can ask your client every so often if they need further clarification. If and when they do, try to explain what you were talking about in a different way than you did the first time. If they’re having trouble following you, repeating the exact same explanation may not get you anywhere. Think outside the box — use analogies and examples when possible.

These suggestions may take practice and it might be hard at first to not clench your teeth in frustration. The best way you can combat impatience is to empathize with your client and put yourself in their position. Treat them the way you’d want to be treated if you were trying to purchase a health care plan.

Avoiding Elderspeak

One major offense an agent can make when talking to older Medicare clients is falling into elderspeak. This is the tendency to use patronizing language or simplified words when talking to seniors or addressing them with names like, “sweetie” or “dear.” If you find yourself using a high-pitched voice, you might be using elderspeak.

Many seniors maintain the same vocabulary they had years ago, several improving their vocabulary as they age. There’s no reason to assume someone over the age of 65 needs simplified words or phrases any more so than younger individuals. Older adults usually take elderspeak as an insult, not as being kind, so do your best to avoid using it.

Older adults usually take elderspeak as an insult, not as being kind, so do your best to avoid using it.

Studies have even shown that patronizing seniors because of their age can be detrimental to their health and have a direct impact on how long they will live. A long-term survey conducted in 2002 found that those with positive perceptions of aging lived an average of seven and a half years longer than those with a negative outlook. This is a bigger increase in lifespan than studies have found to be associated with exercising or not smoking. It’s possible you might be using elderspeak without even realizing it, but you should make a conscious effort to interact with your client as an equal (or even wiser) adult.

Decisions Equal Empowerment

As an insurance agent, it’s your job to guide your clients through the decision-making process. It’s important that you don’t make a decision for them or assume you know what’s best for them. For seniors, being able to exercise choice can lead to a greater sense of confidence and self-esteem. It also helps them feel empowered to be more proactive in life.

Being able to exercise choice can provide seniors with a greater sense of confidence and self-esteem and help them feel empowered.

Allowing your clients to make decisions for themselves is also imperative in regard to compliance. Your input should always be regarding what plan you think, in your opinion as a professional agent, is the best fit for your client. It goes against the Medicare Communications and Marketing Guidelines to say that one plan is the best or that your client must pick one over another. Let your clients be the ultimate decision-makers.

You may find that some of your clients wish to have someone else at the meeting, just to have another set of ears retaining information. If your client does bring someone along to the appointment, such as one of their children, be sure to speak directly to the client choosing the Medicare plan. It can be frustrating for seniors when questions that should be addressed to them are directed toward someone else. By not asking your clients questions that have to do with their wants and needs, you can cause them to feel like you think they’re incapable of answering questions or understanding the information on their own. Your client is the one purchasing the insurance plan after all. Make sure the tone of your conversation reflects that.

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Putting all of these tips into practice and making a conscious effort to communicate with seniors the same way you’d interact with any other adult will benefit you in the long run. It can even help to boost your sales. You may already be using appropriate communication techniques with older adults, and if so, that’s great! Keep up the good work, and regardless of your client’s age, always treat them with respect and compassion.