Demonstrating empathy when communicating with older people

Nurs Older People. 2022 Feb 1;34(1):34-41. doi: 10.7748/nop.2022.e1378. Epub 2022 Jan 12.


Empathy is an integral aspect of communication with older people and is central to person-centred care. As part of the provision of person-centred care, empathy supports effective communication, producing positive effects such as increased emotional well-being, increased adherence to treatment plans, reduced pain levels and improved wound healing. Empathy involves attempting to understand the other person's perspective and feelings and communicate that understanding back to them. Empathic communication can help older people feel that they are being listened to and valued as partners in healthcare relationships. This article focuses on why it is important to demonstrate empathy when communicating with older people and how this can be achieved. It explains the origin of the concept of empathy in nursing and provides different ways of characterising empathy. It explores barriers to empathic communication in older people nursing and identifies verbal and non-verbal communication skills that nurses can use to enhance their empathy. Finally, it explains the importance for nurses to develop self-awareness and undertake self-care to preserve their capacity to demonstrate empathy towards older people.

Keywords: active listening; communication; compassionate care; interpersonal skills; non-verbal communication; nurse-patient relations; older people; patients; person-centred care; professional; professional issues.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Communication*
  • Empathy*
  • Humans
  • Nurse-Patient Relations