This is the first in a two-part series.

They say that “with age comes experience,” but, unfortunately, with age also comes some challenges. I’m talking about the effect of aging on all five of the senses, most specifically on our hearing and eyesight — two of the most important elements in communication.

Often, these sensory changes are gradual. You may not notice when someone is experiencing hearing problems or if they can’t see as well as they used to. In fact, they may not recognize the changes themselves.

The average age of hearing loss in the U.S. is 51 and it is estimated that 18% of baby boomers have experienced some decline in their ability to hear clearly. After age 65, more than half of U.S. seniors have some form of hearing loss. With high-tone deafness, the listener has trouble hearing tones in the higher frequencies. This can make it hard to follow conversations, particularly when there are competing noises.

Ironically, many people raise their voices when talking with someone who has a hearing impairment.  For people who have high-tone deafness, this is exactly what not to do!

Helpful strategies include lowering your voice, and communicating the most important details in person so you can read body language and ensure there is mutual understanding.

Ask someone over the age of 45-50 to read some small print and most will reach for reading glasses. This is called presbyopia, or short-sightedness, and by the age of 50 close to 100% of the adult population is affected to some degree by the condition. It’s a good idea to keep several pairs of dollar store glasses in different strengths around your office!

Aging can also affect how we see colors, making it hard to distinguish contrasts where blue is used, and making bright yellow look brown and darker blues look black. Advertisers compensate by using large text and bright colors, while ensuring lots of contrast between them to make it easier to see.

Here are some ideas to help make your materials easier to read:

  • Avoid stylistic fonts with inconsistent stroke widths. In general, sans serif fonts such as Arial or Helvetica usually work well
  • Use a minimum 12pt font in written material and 8pt on business cards
  • Avoid glossy paper
  • Watch color contrasts – the blue end of the spectrum is the danger zone. The best color contrast is basic black on white (not white on black)
  • Use bright colors wherever possible
  • Take care with reds and yellows, which can convey the need for caution

Additional resources for retirement advisors:
Communicating with Retiring Clients
The Top 5 Advisor Pitfalls in Working with Clients Through Retirement