So, we know from past posts that my favorite Italian expression is the deceivingly complicated “Dimmi tutto.” The one that’s most ingrained in my mind, however, is more straightforward: “Mi senti?” Working with the elderly requires a unique set of skills. Patience, empathy, and compassion are important, but none are as crucial as a loud voice. (*note* a sense of humor is also essential.) One must master the art of deciphering verbal and nonverbal cues indicative of hearing loss and/or lost hearing aids. In addition to being heard, they must be understood.
Have you ever spoken to someone whose accent made them tough to follow? Or smiled & nodded when you had no idea what a person said, praying that they hadn’t asked a question? Better yet, have you asked “What?!” so many times that you feel bad and give up, eventually pretending to have gotten it? Whether hearing impaired or not, there’s a lot that goes into effectively conversing with one another. Throw in a little confusion and memory loss and things get full blown messy.
I recently spent about an hour sitting and chatting with a group of residents. I’m not always awarded such luxuries, but it was a Saturday and my manager-on-duty shift was long over. I was so pleasantly surprised by what went on: they told stories, shared complaints (none about the staff, obv <3), laughed with one another and truly seemed to enjoy themselves. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t completely abnormal, but there were new, more timid residents in the group as well as two or three who aren’t particularly fond of each other. Things went so smoothly and I had such a good time that even by 7PM on a weekend, I didn’t want to leave.
What made this evening different? They could hear each other. I encouraged more loves to join our impromptu café party, but I otherwise stayed out of it. I did, however, intercept if anyone’s comments went unnoticed. I repeated what they’d said and made sure we weren’t talking over each other. For those harder of hearing, I used my body language and nonverbals to make things clear. When I was involved, I was truly, enthusiastically, passionately engaged, and it spoke volumes.
“People with dementia are particularly attuned to the care partner’s tone of voice, facial expression, volume, and hand gestures. Body language counts! It is as if you are speaking to someone who doesn’t speak the same language as you – he or she is looking for cues and clues from the encounter and not relying completely on your spoken words. Examples of positive body language include smiles, offering a handshake, hugs, and standing tall with enthusiasm!” – A Dignified Life
When you don’t hear somebody, it’s frustrating.. it’s as though you’re wasting time. Not being heard is just as bad. I’m learning more and more that regardless of our age or mental status, understanding one another is exceptionally important: being on the same page in interactions, in relationships, and in life is crucial. When my loves don’t hear each other, miscommunications turn into arguments. Frustration leads to anger and confusion to sadness. It’s a downward spiral you can’t climb up from.. it ruins the whole day (well, some “days” shorter than others, but still). Save yourself the heartache and make your voice heard. Listen when you converse and make a true effort to be on the same page. You never know what kind of parties you’ll miss out on otherwise.