Caregivers Listen Up Part II

by Joy Loverde

Think about it. Recall situations when others listened to you, remaining nonjudgmental and empathetic as you spoke. caregiving, caring for aging parentsHow did you feel? What did the listener do to make you feel heard? Most likely, your perception was that the listener demonstrated interest in you as you talked and in what you had to say.

Here are a few tips on HOW to listen.

Listening is an active, creative process that begins by setting the stage. Start by simplifying your surroundings. Too much noise can be distracting and annoying. Turn off the television or try to find a quiet place to talk. Here are a few suggestions to help convey the message that you are listening:

If the conversation is taking place in person, face your elder and maintain eye contact. Sit or stand within a few feet of each other. Eye contact is like a magic potion.

Body language conveys interest. Lean closer and nod your head every so often. A gentle touch can be reassuring. Use positive, friendly facial expressions.

Validate your elder’s feelings and show that you understand by saying words like, “I see what you mean, Mom,” or “Now I think understand.”

Tune in to how they say things, not necessarily what they are saying. And, it doesn’t matter if words, events and timelines aren’t in exact order.

Avoid asking too many questions which can easily be perceived as an interrogation.

Allow time for elders to find the word or words they are searching for.  Let them speak creatively. If they say, “that thing you write with” because they can’t recall the word for pencil, go with the flow, and don’t correct them. If they get frustrated at not finding words, you can say, “No matter, let’s move on.”

When the elder is quiet for a moment, resist the temptation to fill gaps of silence. Instead, say, “I’m listening, please continue.”

When an elderly person becomes agitated during a conversation, it may be a sign of fatigue or pain, and time to take a break.

Different listening rules apply if you are communicating with an aging parent who has memory issues or more serious dementia for they can easily be disoriented and confused, and have difficulty with language on many levels. Contact the Alzheimer's Association ( for additional tips and support.

While it’s easy to write advice about listening to our aging parents, taking on the task is another matter. Even so, do the best you can. Try to listen with an open mind, and better yet, an open heart.

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