Tips for Communicating with Seniors!
Seniors crave social connection as much as the rest of us. Unfortunately, sometimes they are less able to verbalize their feelings as well as they used to or are self-conscious about slower speech or reduced memory. Some extra effort may be needed to strike up a conversation with them.
It's important to try not to treat an older person any differently than you would anyone else. Realize that they have had rich experiences, which you can tap into and learn from during your time with them. Your honest and loving curiosity about their lives will both help to trigger memories for them as well as provide a natural path for conversation.
Planning for a Visit
If you know ahead of time that you'll be visiting a senior, consider bringing something to d or talk about that might help trigger memories for them. A few ideas include:
* A family photo album
* Music from when the person was young (Your smartphone is the perfect tool for this!)
* A simple craft project or puzzle
* A homemade goodie
* Take a Vacation! Using your SmartPhone and Google Earth you can go anywhere! Look at the house your senior grew up in, investigate a city they have always wanted to visit, or even look at an old workplace! (http://tiny.cc/bkmlkz)
If they have access to a kitchen and used to enjoy cooking, bring ingredients for a meal or snack you can enjoy making and eating together. This might even spark conversations about favorite foods , cooking techniques, or recipes!
Questions to Spark a Conversation
If conversations don't seem to flow naturally, here are some questions that might help:
1. Who influenced your life the most?
2. What is the happiest moment of your life?
3. What is your proudest accomplishment
4. What is your earliest memory? (Note: many people's long term memory stays in tact much longer than their short term memory)
5. Who were your friends when you were growing up?
6. Did you have a pet?
7. Did you travel when you were younger? Where was your favorite vacation?
8. What was your favorite hobby?
9. What was school like for you as a child? What were your favorite and least favorite subjects?
10. What do you wish you'd done that you didn't?
It might be tempting to finish sentences, fill in the blanks, or correct inconsistencies, but it's more respectful to give your full attention to someone when they are speaking. Let them take their time and think through their answers to you. Be patient if they aren't able to speak or think through at their previous pace.
Try to stick to one topic at a time. Limit distractions to allow time to collect their thoughts. Turn off televisions or phones and move to a quiet corner, if possible.
This is a time of their lives that may be characterized by loss: loss off health, finances, friends, mobility, and control, to name just a few. If we let them talk about these losses, it often gives us opportunities to talk about alternatives that help them retain the control they have left.
When planning time together, rather than asking open-ended questions, give a couple of options. For instance, instead of "What would you like to eat?," try "Would you rather have tacos or spaghetti for dinner?"
Be aware of non-verbal communication. As people lose the ability to talk clearly, they may rely on other ways to communicate. Facial expressions may show sadness, anger, frustration, or other emotions. Allow them to express themselves verbally and non-verbally in every way they can.
The bottom line is that all humans crave connection. They want to feel valued, respected, and loved. The efforts you make to communicate with your loved ones and seniors that you spend time with may be valued far more than you even realize, and maybe even far more than they can express to you.