I just got off the phone with a friend of mine and as I hung up, I realized that I had forgotten to tell him several things. They weren’t super important things, just little experiences that I wanted to share or questions that I wanted to ask.
The reason I had forgotten to relay these items to him was not because of dementia (although I sometimes wonder if I’m developing it, as any former caregiver to a dementia patient would do) but because I wasn’t giving him my full attention. I was not fully present in the moment. I was busy multi-tasking.
While I was on the phone with him, I was busy adding a photo to my newsletter, then sending a test run of it, then finally scheduling it to be sent out to my readers. After that, I was concentrating on a neighbor who had said she was coming by to pick up some farm fresh eggs – Did I have enough? Were they clean? Was I presentable enough to answer the door? (Working at home gives a good excuse to not look your best at all times.)
Anyway, my mind was not on my phone conversation and it was very rude of me not to offer him my full attention.
Sometimes we create a similar scenario when we are caregiving. We have a million things on our “to do” list and although we may think we are giving our full attention to our loved one or care recipient, our body language may say otherwise.
I remember when I was caring for my father, I would go into the den to give him his afternoon medications. He would be watching either a court TV show or Oprah, and invite me to sit down and watch with him. “You’ve got to see this! Oprah’s interviewing one of your favorite movie stars today!” he’d say. So I’d plop down on the closest easy-chair, pretending to be interested, but sitting on the edge of the seat, all the while thinking that I needed to start dinner very soon, and that I hadn’t fed the dogs or the chickens and that the mail hadn’t been retrieved yet and …..so on and so on and so on.
An aging loved one may not hear as well as they once did and they may not comprehend as much as they once did but one of the last ways of communicating that they are able to recognize and interpret is body language. By sitting at the edge of my seat, and continuously glancing at the doorway, I was clearly telling my father that I wanted to be anywhere…but there with him.
Caregivers are very busy. I know that. I haven’t forgotten.
But we need to be mindful that the reason we are doing this caregiving is to make a better life for our care recipient. In order to do that, we must take some time to LISTEN to them, to BE there with them, to SHARE a spot of time with them. Listening to a person shows them that we care about them.
Some ways to practice good listening skills are:
1. Pay attention
Look at your loved-one directly. Don’t be glancing at your watch, then the door, etc. Leave your To Do list at the door. Watch your loved one’s body language, as well.
2. Show that you are listening
Nod occasionally. Smile. Try to calm your posture so that it doesn’t scream “I don’t have time for this!”
A soft touch is also a good way to show that you are listening.
3. Provide feedback if appropriate.
If your loved one is continuously saying that he or she wants to go home, you might ask them what they like about their home, where is it, who was their favorite neighbor, etc.
4. Don’t judge or interrupt.
Allow your loved one to finish a thought before you ask to excuse yourself. In this way, they will know that they have been heard. And don’t allow yourself to get dragged into an arguement. Use statements such as “that must be very frustrating for you.”
5. Respond appropriately.
Again, the use of soft touch is always comforting to the care recipient. A pat on the hand, a hug or a quick back massage can communicate love and caring very effectively.
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