How to dramatically improve your loved one’s quality of life through better communication.

By Godwin Dixon, NFA – Co-Founder & Co-Owner for Teresa’s House

It’s no secret that at every stage of life, we have a deep need to feel validated, respected and heard. This doesn’t change as we age, but nearly ever senior has a story or two about the time someone called them “sweetie” or spoke to them as if they were incompetent.

As we age, maintaining dignity, a sense of purpose and sense of self is directly related to how others communicate to us. Studies have shown over and over that elderspeak (infantilizing communication) can be particularly detrimental to those with dementia and can actually shorten a person’s lifespan by several years. Dismissive or overly sympathetic communication can have the same effect. Validation, respect and being heard is critically important for life.

At Teresa’s House, we train our caregivers in conscious communication, active listening and in validation therapy because we know genuine, authentic connection is the foundation for quality care and strong relationships. 

We all want our elderly family members to feel happy and loved – but when your loved one is facing dementia or increased challenges with communication like hearing loss or aphasia, it’s easy to feel frustrated. It suddenly seems like much of what you say and do is not working and your loved one gets more and more agitated or withdrawn. We’ve learned that by using these techniques, our residents are once again thriving.

Here are our favorite senior care communication tips: 

Start the communications process before you walk in.

Prepare yourself before you are with your loved one and remind yourself that you’re here to listen and to validate them as a human being who is worthy of love and respect. 

Put your loved one in a position to succeed.

For seniors experiencing memory loss, asking them open-ended questions will help them thrive. Yes or No questions cut off conversation, and questions about current times, like “What did you have for lunch today?” are frustrating for those who can no longer remember the present. Instead, tell about your day and/or  ask things like “What was your favorite thing to do growing up?” This opens doors to other subjects they may want to talk about.  

Watch for non-verbal communication cues like tone of voice or fidgeting.

Is there something bigger going on here? Are they upset about something or in pain? Check your own non-verbal cues and make sure you’re not showing frustration and that you are giving them undivided attention, that your tone is neutral, and you’re relaxed.

Don’t argue or lie.

Even “therapeutic lies” can cause problems and lead to distrust.  An elder with dementia isn’t stupid, they just have brain damage that impacts their ability to process, understand and communicate. Although the things they are saying may not make sense on the surface, there is an emotion or meaning they are trying to convey. It is up to us to figure that out. When a loved one with Alzheimer’s talks about a deceased loved one like they are still alive, it’s often that is their way of saying “I miss them and want to talk about them.”

Ask for their advice or opinions.

After retirement, and especially when a senior needs help with day to day activities, they often no longer feel needed or competent. Seniors are full of history and life experiences. By asking for their advice, we personally benefit, and they once again feel useful and needed.

Speak with empathy, mirror and rephrase what they said.

MY SWEATER HAS BEEN STOLEN!!!” can be responded to with a just slightly less animated Your sweater has been stolen… showing that you are concerned but are neither agreeing or disagreeing, just re-stating and validating their upset as genuine.

Validate what they say respectfully.

Try simple statements like “I can understand how you feel, Mom.” This allows you to validate their emotions without having to agree or disagree with their statements.  

Ask clarifying questions and summarize key themes.

When someone asks you to clarify what you mean or summarizes what you said, you know they truly listen, and they want to understand.

Truly listen – without judgement.

Often just the act of listening and being there is the greatest gift we can give. Putting the phone down and giving undivided attention without judgment is key to quality time together.

As a seniors age they lose abilities, friends, family members and often independence and even competence. Handling that with grace is one of the hardest parts of aging. Add to that the additional challenges that come with diseases like dementia, and it can be truly disorienting. If family members and senior care staff can help their senior manage the hard process of aging, with their dignity still intact, we give them one of the greatest gifts possible. 

Helping them to feel loved, validated and understood can make all the difference in how they (and their caregivers) experience those final years. At Teresa’s House, we support you and your loved one every step of the way. 

If you or a loved one is considering Assisted Living or Memory care, we’d love to get to know you and show you our exceptional senior care community here in McKinney, Texas. Contact us today to schedule a private tour.