March has been designated International Listening Awareness Month by the International Listening Association, so as to promote the major role that listening plays in all our lives, especially to senior citizens who are often less social and more often on their own. Senior home care professionals understand how seniors can become relatively isolated, and how much value there can be to simply sitting down with them, and listening to their stories. In Water Valley and elsewhere throughout the country, this March will be a good time to just devote a few hours to sit with your senior loved one, to show them you care by listening to whatever they might have to say.
Why listening is so important
There are a number of reasons why listening skills are very important when you’re dealing with older adults, and it’s critical that you listen closely because they might be telling you something other than what their words are expressing. A good example of this is when your senior loved one has been complaining for weeks or months about physical ailments. When some of these issues are finally addressed, and the actual cause of their discomfort has been removed, you might find that they’re still complaining endlessly about aches and pains.
In many cases, this doesn’t have anything to do with any pain they might be feeling. Instead, it is very often a simple attempt to be with you and converse with you, just to have some companionship and a sympathetic ear. You’d be surprised at how often this very situation comes up with senior citizens who are afraid to be left alone and shuffled out of the mainstream.
Another thing you should be very mindful of when talking with seniors is any changes in their communication habits. Sometimes you might find them talking a great deal more or a great deal less than previously, and this could indicate the onset of some type of depression or anxiety. At other times, you might discover that they are forgetting simple ideas and words, or perhaps using smaller words. They might even be drifting off in the middle of a thought, without completing a sentence.
This could be an indicator of relatively mild problems with cognition, or it could also be an indicator that your loved one is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Keep in mind that when your senior loved one complains constantly about something or other, they may not exactly be looking for you to fix the problem. They may just want you to acknowledge what they’re going through, or they may just want a sounding board, so they’re not left alone with their own emotions.
It also happens fairly often that you can’t be with your loved one all the time, and you can’t be the person who they tell all their troubles to. If you have a caregiver who comes into your household at various times during the week, make sure to apprise them of the situation, and let them know that you would appreciate them using their good listening skills as well.
What it takes to be a good listener
As a caregiver or the offspring of a senior who requires care, you should know that good listening skills are absolutely essential since you play such a huge role in their physical well-being, as well as their mental wellness. Good listening is much more than simply being silent and allowing your senior loved one to ramble on about whatever is troubling them. You need to really pay attention to what they’re saying, both in their words and in any underlying context which you can detect as well.
It may be that their real concern has nothing to do with what they’re actually saying, but just that they’re frightened about being left alone, about advancing age and failing health, or perhaps about the onset of some debilitating mental condition. When you’re listening well, it may not actually call for a two-way dialogue with your loved one, but you should interject a word here and there to show that you are paying attention and that you understand their concerns.
Health benefits of good communication
You probably already know that loneliness and isolation are serious concerns for elderly individuals, and that means by listening well you can have a dramatic impact on their mental and physical health, as well as their quality of life. If you can keep your senior loved one active and communicating socially, that can be something that engages them more and contributes to a fuller and more satisfying lifestyle.
Many studies have shown clearly that seniors are healthier and happier when they are more engaged with family and friends. They have less anxiety and depression, fewer chronic illnesses, and generally better cognitive health. You can contribute to your senior loved one’s well-being significantly, simply by communicating with them regularly and genuinely listening to what they have to say.