It helps, when a loved one has dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease, that you possess a lot of patience and similar qualities. Whether they’re newly diagnosed or already receiving hospice care in the Dubuque area and elsewhere, they will need all sorts of support.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice work with a variety of clients with different types of dementia. In many households, there are close friends or family members who are unofficial or even official caregivers.
This means that while they may not have formal training in nursing or medicine, they’re still willing and eager to do everything they can to help, whether it’s physical tasks around the house or helping with their emotional needs. They may be scared, confused, angry, or generally uncertain about what’s happening and what’s ahead.
As dementia advances, people may start to experience greater mental challenges and even physical challenges. They may become disoriented and confused, and during periods of lucidity, they may be sad.
That means that more may be required from caregivers. They may need to worry about people hurting themselves. They should be prepared to offer comfort, calmness, and security – along with the knowledge of who to reach out to if a higher level of caring is needed, such as a nurse.
Besides a lot of patience, another important quality to have is the ability to listen.
Certainly, a good caregiver should be responsive to any verbal requests especially in crucial situations where someone needs help right away.
Having someone within shouting distance is part of why some people have caregivers rather than living alone, which can be dangerous especially if someone falls or hurts themselves and can’t reach a phone.
But good listening can also take other forms.
The active version of listening involves simply having a conversation with someone and hearing what’s on their minds. Chances are there’s a lot.
During a period of clear thinking, you can ask them to share how they’re feeling about everything. They may feel overwhelmed or emotional, and a good listener can give them the opportunity to let it all out.
Or, if they never have been good at sharing their feelings or aren’t comfortable with all the emotions, you can still look for opportunities to let them speak and let you listen.
Topics can include:
- Memories. Some people dealing with dementia may not remember recent details but they can share entertaining memories from their childhood. They may even be more vivid now, especially if someone is given free rein to share anything from their past. (You can even consider recording these stories so you can preserve these family memories for future generations.)
- Practical details. If they’re receiving hospice care, they may not have a lot of time left. During periods when they can think clearly, you can discuss matters like their estate, their memorial service, and funeral arrangements, and any final wishes or requests. This also could be a good time to finalize legal matters for when they aren’t able to make decisions for themselves, such as power of attorney or their wishes on medical intervention.
- General wisdom. Seniors didn’t make it where they are without acquiring all sorts of good and bad experiences. Along with interesting stories from their life, these conversations could be opportunities to gain insight throughout their life. You may have heard some of their anecdotes and aphorisms before, but they might enjoy another opportunity to share them.
- Concerns. Dementia only adds to the fears and anxieties that most people have at the end of their life. Since no one is quite sure what happens after we die, there are all sorts of uncertainty about where we go, combined with worries about what will happen to our loved ones who are left behind. These conversations can be useful for getting some of these concerns out into the open.
Active listening isn’t just asking someone to tell a story and tuning out. It can mean paying attention even if you’re familiar with what they’re saying. It doesn’t mean thinking about the other things you have on your to-do list while you nod occasionally.
It can also mean prompting them to keep sharing or asking questions and seeking more detail.
In fact, active listening as a communication theory starts with paying close attention to what someone is telling you. This also includes paying attention to things beyond their words, such as their tone and any non-verbal displays, such as wide or reserved motions.
Then you have to record what someone told you to make sure you understand it. This could be mental memorization, writing something down, or recording the audio.
The final stage is assuring the speaker that you’re listening and retaining that info.
For those seeking more insight into better listening, the International Listening Association offers a variety of strategies. The organization includes everything from general tips to listen better to formal courses and certifications in advanced listening techniques, something that’s especially useful in the business world.
The ILA also organizes and celebrates the International Day of Listening, which encourages people to take the effort to pay attention to others in their life. The traditional day is in September, but much of the information can be used on any other date or occasion.