While listening to someone may seem a rather passive act, good listening requires attention, focus, and energy! Active listening means you are truly focused on what the other person is saying and not trying to formulate a response. Your attention is on the other person’s words, body language, tone of voice, and affect. Listening to your loved one with dementia has another component: there may be periods of time during the conversation when you are waiting for their response. So, another element of active listening is silence and patience.
Since our goal is to enter the world of the person with dementia (rather than requiring them to enter our world), asking them a question in conversation requires you to wait for their response. Oftentimes, we are uncomfortable with the silence and ask the question again, or ask it a different way—thinking the other person does not understand. The person with dementia may need the extra time to understand what you have asked or said, and then more time to figure out a response.
As access to words and concepts becomes less available to the person with dementia, our listening to her messages has to stretch proportionately. Her ability to find words and pull together thoughts becomes less straightforward as the disease progresses.
Thoughts on active listening:
1. Be proactive—listen with intention, focus, attention, and energy.
2. Search for meaning—not only from the words but from the emotion expressed.
3. Be patient—wait for responses.
4. Listen with your whole body—look directly at the person, sit or stand squarely, facing them, lean in.
5. Laugh when they laugh. As you reflect on their responses, even if you do not understand what they are saying, you will encourage more sharing.
As you learn to actively listen to your loved one with dementia, you will experience the benefits of closeness,
connection, humor, and understanding.
Melody Thomas-Morgan, CSA
Resident Relations Specialist
The Margaret T. Morris Center