As a caregiver , its important to know your client’s needs, and what type of care they require. Your agency’s job is to match your skills to the client’s needs appropriately. But the most valuable skill you can bring with you is LISTENING.
Familiarize yourself with the background information about your client. Get to know them as a person, not just a patient. If your client is verbal, engage them in conversation. Ask questions about their life. Encourage them to talk about their memories, feelings, and opinions.
And as they talk, listen to them. Many elderly people have amazing life stories. They may feel intimidated by current events and our swiftly-changing world; however, your genuine interest in their life will bring confidence. After all, they are familiar with the subject.
Let’s talk about active listening:
1. Make eye contact, not to make the client feel like you are staring, but that you are interested in what they are saying.
2. Lean toward them a little. This body language communicates attentiveness. Be aware of any nonverbal messages you may be accidentally sending.
3. Respond to what they say, always encouraging them to continue. Do not share your opinions or experiences. This conversation is not about you. If you start telling your story, that will close down your client’s communication. Remember… it’s not about you.
4. Do not let your mind wander to chores you need to do, or anywhere else. Keep your focus on your client. Be patient if they struggle with words. Get a feel for when to help them and when not. Let them tell their story in their way. The dishes or making the bed can be done later. You are providing the invaluable service of companionship. That is more important to your client’s well being.
5. Let them take as long as it takes to talk. If they wander around subjects, do not bring them back to point. If they begin to show frustration because they realize they have forgotten what they were saying, then is the time to ask an open-ended question relevant to the topic. Without telling them what they were saying, you can bring them gently back on course with a good question.
As dementia onsets, short term memory loss precedes the long term. Many of these people can clearly remember something from their distant past much more vividly than what happened an hour or less ago. Encouraging your client to talk about these events in their life may improve their memory functions at times.
Your life will be enriched as you help your clients communicate. You will learn a lot from them.
Just a word about nonverbal clients. They communicate too, often agitated because people, even caregivers, don’t understand them. A key part of active listening is watching them for nonverbal clues. And careful and patient observation of nonverbal clients will teach you how to understand what they are trying to communicate