Listening from the Heart

To listen fully means to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the words. You listen not only to the “music,” but to the essence of the person speaking. – Peter Senge

“Mother, you’ve told me that story hundreds of time.” When a senior hears those words said in a tone of exasperation it can feel like a slap in the face, or at the very least, rejection. The story teller may feel that their memories have no value, and they themselves are unimportant. The reality may be that a family caregiver is simply exhausted, overworked and on edge. A little creativity and patience can lead to a winning situation that honors both senior and caregiver.

  1. Take a proactive approach. There are many books that are filled with questions about important times in a person’s life, and spaces to add the answers. Schedule a time each day to spend about half an hour to ask a question or two and write down the responses. The book is sure to become a treasured part of family history.
  2. Practice active listening skills. Some seniors may repeat their stories because they have never felt heard. As you listen be aware of your body language. Lean in. Make eye contact. Don’t have your arms folded across your chest. Communication is a two way street. Nod, make brief comments that encourage more details or acknowledge what you are hearing.
  3. Some of the memories seniors share will be sad or painful and may stir up deep emotions. Acknowledge the reality of those emotions and then gently redirect the conversation. Resist the urge to fix the feelings but do your best to help the senior move past staying stuck in sorrow. A conversation about the pain of losing loved ones can progress into stories about happy times with them.
  4. In some instances seniors who incessantly repeat their stories are exhibiting signs of dementia. As their short term memory retention begins to fail, they may feel more confident in retelling the stories they remember best. It may be time to get some additional help to relieve your stress and give you time to regroup.
  5. In addition to stories that bring up strong emotions, you will hear some that are humorous or even laugh out loud funny. Laughter may not always be the “best medicine” but it certainly helps us feel better. Just make sure the senior in your life realizes you are laughing with them, not at them.
  6. An alternative to using the fill in the blank books mentioned early is to create your own. Choose old family pictures to start conversations about stories you may not have heard before. Ask your parent or other loved one to help you put together a scrapbook with these pictures and the accompanying stories.

Home health providers are tremendous resources in your life and the life of the senior you care for yourself. They offer you time for yourself, which is essential for you to have in order to maintain your strength and emotional equilibrium. For the senior, the provider also offers new ears to hear old stories.