The Art of Listening: Achieving Successful Communication

The Art of Listening: Achieving Successful Communication

As Aging Life Care specialists, we are called upon to provide an assortment of services. The needs are as varied as the families we are helping. We continuously strive to be experts in our knowledge of homecare, entitlements, senior residences, elder law attorneys, and providing skilled and supportive counseling. But we are only effective if, throughout our dialogue with families, we listen. Effective listening combined with effective communication sets the foundation for successive and successful outcomes.

The art of listening, sometimes referred to as “active listening” requires two essential tasks. First, that we as care managers, listen, making a mindful effort to hear the words that seniors and their families are saying. Second, we must concentrate on what is being said establishing a virtual stop sign that leaves no room for our own assumptions and prejudices. We cannot assume or anticipate conclusions. With these two tasks as starting points, our listening is enhanced by four other components.

We listen mindfully, putting aside any distracting (as opposed to professional beliefs) thoughts. We listen without having an inner dialogue that will have an automatic response to a situation that is verbally evolving.

We listen without interrupting, knowing it may disrupt a client’s train of thought, especially if the person is cognitively compromised. A semi-smile (think Mona Lisa) or an encouraging “uh-huh,” lets the person know we are with them, we are listening.

We ask for clarification at the appropriate time. Siblings may finish telling of their conflicting feelings about what they each think is best for mom, and we reply: “So let me make sure I understand.” It is that clarification that allows for modification and affirmation.

Finally, after all information has been shared, the Aging Life Care specialist summarizes what has been said and listens for what has not been said, the latter perhaps a clue to the issue at hand.

Our listening skills remain strong as we adapt to the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 virus. Historically, families have sought the guidance of an Aging Life Care specialist as they pondered whether a parent would be better served in assisted living or remain at home with help. Now, families are asking our guidance as they question if a parent should return home or remain in their senior residence. Whoever would have thought? Thru this crisis, we will stand strong with our families, listening deeply and fully, a north star during uncertain times.

Social Distancing-Social Engagement in the Age of Covid-19: What We Can Do

Social Distancing-Social Engagement in the Age of Covid-19: What We Can Do

I live in New Rochelle, New York, a city whose fame is rooted in the Petrie’s of The Dick Van Dyke show. That image of a suburban family living on a quiet tree-lined street changed dramatically on March 10. New Rochelle became the first COVID-19 containment area in the United States.

On that date, I was visiting a client. Twenty minutes into my visit, the governor made his announcement. Although I felt fine, after checking with the caregivers to make sure food and medications were in good supply I left. Not yet knowing what a containment area meant, I shamefully headed to the supermarket, one thirty minutes away from the city where I have lived and shopped for forty years.

For people over 60, of which I am one, the instructions, even before this declaration, was to stay home. I had not taken the directive seriously. But the time had come. So instead of home visits, the telephone has become my link to clients. My weekly tutoring sessions at a local elementary school stopped. The library where I volunteer closed. My world had narrowed. Like the icon I tap when I take that occasional selfie, I now had to reverse my focus, making sure that my social engagement trumped my social distancing.

So, what have I learned that we can all practice and share with adult seniors? First, is the heightened importance of staying in touch. Communication whether it be by phone, emails or the use of video conferencing is paramount. But sadly, the oldest of the old are the least technologically savvy. This is where letters, especially with a photo enclosed, and cards and drawings from grandchildren will go a long way. Also, contacting a senior’s house of worship can result in congregants phoning members to fill the void created by COVID-19. Local aging in place organizations have volunteers who are also calling community members.

Beyond communication, the significance of a daily routine is important. For older adults who were going to senior centers or adult day programs, their regular schedule has been disrupted. Taking a walk has both mental and physical benefits. Combining this with in-home activities such as watching The National Park Virtual Tours or The Georgia Aquarium Live Cams can lessen the isolation and provide mental stimulation.

Is there a “What not to do?” Definitely. Dr. Laurie Archbald-Panno a geriatrician at the University of Virginia suggests a “news diet.” One news viewing in the morning and one in the evening. That’s it.

Our seniors have seen much in their lifetimes. They have lived through wars, TB and Polio epidemics and some, the Great Depression. Our government has assured us that at some point the COVID-19 virus will pass. But who better to give us this reassurance than our true survivors, our seniors. Let’s help them as they help us.

Can an Adult Senior Remain at Home? …That is the Question

Can an Adult Senior Remain at Home? …That is the Question

As an eldercare consultant, I am familiar with the statistic that close to 90% of adult seniors, have expressed a desire to remain in their homes for as long as possible. The terminology in the world of eldercare is “aging in place.”

My lack of surprise about aging at home, while corroborated by AARP, has its source in the adult children who visit my office frustrated that their parents feel there is no compelling reason for them to move out of their house. A typical scenario as described by a son or daughter: no bathroom or only a half bathroom on the main floor, stairs that must be ascended or descended to get to the kitchen, no direct access to the outside without holding on to a hand rail that is unstable accompanied by a walkway that is crumbling, nonstop repairs both large and small.

Sitting across from these adult children, I understand their unease. They are often wakeful at night, distracted at work, consumed with the responsibilities of calling the plumber, roofer or making sure a path has been shoveled after a snowstorm.  I also know from talking with adult seniors the comfort that comes with continuing to reside in a lifelong home. Change is never easy or welcomed.  So, what’s an eldercare consultant to do?

For this consultant, the major consideration is safety. There is no compromise on this issue. To ensure this safety there are three necessary requirements. First, the willingness of a parent to agree to whatever modifications should be made to the house. First, the readiness of the parent to accept home care if necessary and first, the financial wherewithal and/or community support services to achieve these outcomes.  Yes, they are all number one priorities.

To this end, I frequently visit the parents in their home. Often, mom and dad need to be heard and understood, with a focus on empathy. Once they know I understand their situation, it is easier to start to effect change. The secret is small steps. With each step, it is validating their willingness to undertake necessary changes. That validation provides the incentive for the next step until a safe living environment is accomplished.

But please don’t think I come with a magic wand. Sometimes the ideal, or even close to it, becomes unachievable. It may be the staunch autonomy of a parent or it is the symbiotic relationship of husband and wife who create such a strong wall (yes, this one is achievable), that adult children, the family favorite, or even this eldercare consultant cannot convince them that they are putting their safety at risk. Then Father Time steps in and removes aging at home as a choice. A fall, noncompliance with medication, or one of those all too frequent storms we’ve been having here in Westchester County, may result in a whole new aging in place definition and destination.