“A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while he knows something.” — Wilson Mizner

Do you consider yourself a good listener? Becoming a good listener has been a journey for me. It has taken years of concentrated effort to “really” listen, not just hear, but listen.

I got the ultimate confirmation about my listening skills from my sister Mary Jane. Last night when we were talking she said, “I always like talking with you, Karen, because you are an active listener. I know you are thinking about what I am saying and it is important to you.” Confirmed!

As a caregiver of someone with dementia it can become increasingly difficult to be an attentive listener. In fact, most of the time my caregivers tell me they do not listen but tend to talk over their loved one or fill in words for them.

But more often than not the person with dementia is trying to tell you something that is very important to them and can no longer articulate what is on their mind.

Could you imagine not being able to say what is on your mind?

I have listed some great tips on how to maintain some level of communication with your loved one. It takes a bit of patience and work, but I promise it is worth the effort:

  • Try to be positive.
  • Avoid asking too many direct questions. People with dementia can become frustrated if they can’t find the answer. If you have to, ask questions one at a time, and phrase them in a way that allows for a “yes” or “no” answer.
  • If the person does not understand what you are saying, try to get the message across in a different way rather than simply repeating the same thing.

You could try breaking down complex explanations into smaller parts and perhaps also use written words or objects.

  • Listen carefully to what the person is saying, and give them plenty of encouragement.
  • When you haven’t understood fully, tell the person what you have understood and check with them to see if you are right.
  • If the person has difficulty finding the right word or finishing a sentence, ask them to explain it in a different way. Listen for clues.

Also pay attention to their body language. The expression on their face and the way they hold themselves and move about can give you clear signals about how they are feeling.

Sometimes it is hard enough to communicate with our loved ones when there is no dementia involved, but, my friends, this journey is going to take some practice.

For more information on Memory Matters call 843-842-6688 or visit our website at www.memory-matters.org.

Karen Doughtie is assistant director of Memory Matters, serving Bluffton and Hilton Head. karen@memory-matters.org