Home caregivers have a knack for listening. We listen to subtle changes in breathing. We listen for the nightly trips to the bathroom. And we listen for the bells and chimes that remind us of the many medication schedules. But have we developed listening skills for caregivers? Skills that help us hear our aging parents?
Do we always hear? Do we listen to what is being said and hear what our parents or other loved ones are telling us? Or, are we so busy in our everyday world that we shut out the really important messages?
Everyone wants to be heard
Those who are recipients of a home caregiver’s attention can react to that care in many different ways. Hopefully, those whom you care for are appreciative of the many sacrifices that you make for them, but even the most grateful can still feel other things, including resentment, frustration, or anger. Those feelings can come out at different times and in different ways.
For example, maybe Dad has been putting up a fight about taking his new pills. You’ve heard him say that he doesn’t want to take them and have maybe assumed that it has to do with the fact that he has a hard time swallowing pills. However, maybe he’s trying to tell you something else. If it’s something about side effects (“That darn medicine makes me feel sick!”), you’re probably hearing that, but if all he says is “I just don’t want to,” you may need to do some heavier listening, and you may need to encourage Dad to tell you more.
Often, a senior just wants to know that he is being heard, that his opinions and feelings count. Sometimes simply being heard is the message. .
Tips for honing listening skills for caregivers:
1. Realize that listening takes time and concentration. When you’re rushing around and multitasking, it’s hard to concentrate and really give attention to what another person is saying. If you can’t stop and really focus on what your loved one is saying, ask him or her to wait a few minutes because you really want to be able to listen.
2. Look at your loved one as he or she talks and, when possible, make eye contact. Let him or her see that you are actively paying attention.
3. If something you’re being told is unclear, explain that and ask for a clearer explanation. However, understand that some older people, especially those with dementia, may be sensitive to this question or may be unable to clarify. If that is the case, accept the situation.
4. After your loved one has finished talking, repeat what you were told, in case he or she may not have explained the issue clearly or in case you are misinterpreting something that was said.
5. After the conversation is over, find some time to think about what was said and examine your reaction. Was something said that, after reflection, you might be able to do something to change? Is there something you can take away from the conversation?
Listening and really hearing can be hard work. However, in the process you may gain valuable information that can help you and your loved one. You may also strengthen your bond through the sharing process.