Empathetic listening is defined as a method via which you can prevent or manage disruptive or challenging behaviors. Caregivers can benefit from practicing empathetic listening, especially with people living with dementia. The result will be improved communications and reduced stress for both care partners.
- Be present, and attend the conversation at hand. If you’re multi-tasking, or preparing your response instead of listening to the speaker, then you will only experience the conversation at a superficial level. You’ll miss cues as to what the other person is feeling, and your cognitive empathy will feel forced or faked. Attend the moment.
- Don’t be judgmental. If a person has taken the time to share their personal experiences with you, honor that vulnerability by being open to their perspective.
- Pay attention to the speaker, their facial expressions, and their body language. Your understanding of these cues is instinctual; you simply have to allow yourself to be open to them. If they’re happy, sad, afraid, or upset, take note of that emotion, and respond to it. Your response to their emotional state is even more important than your response to the words they use, because the majority of communication is non-verbal in nature.
- Be quiet and patient. Don’t jump into any break and begin speaking, because not every statement needs an immediate response. This is never truer than in a tense situation that involves the speaker venting over some hurt. You’ll often find that if you simply allow the silence to linger after a break in the tirade, they’ll break the silence themselves and offer a solution.
- Make sure you actually understand the issue at hand. Ask questions, attempt to clarify their meaning, and restate the message you perceive them to be communicating.
As we enter this holiday season of family gatherings and changed schedules, it's important that families and friends practice these tools. Remember that someone living with dementia thinks, feels and acts differently, especially under stress. As caregivers it is ultimately our job to change how we think, feel and act!
Pam Brandon is President/Founder of AGE-u-cate Training Institute and a passionate advocate for older adults and those that serve them.