The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Mindful Listening

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Mindful Listening

We all know that LBD* slows a person’s thinking. We learn quickly to take our time and wait for an answer. Do you get impatient when your loved one takes so long to process thoughts? Do you ever have trouble accepting that your loved one needs so much time? Do you find yourself wanting to roll your eyes or sigh—and sometimes these might even escape? Or do you just look around or close your eyes and wait, PATIENTLY? Everyone does something like this at least once in a while, so it’s OK to say “yes.” It’s boring to just wait and wait and wait.

Try Mindful Listening. That means that instead of just waiting, which is pretty boring, you put your whole mind into respectful listening, while providing encouragement and support. When you do this you will be so busy doing your part of the job that you may forget to be bored! Here are some things that can get you started:

Put yourself in a good listening position:
  • Be close enough so you can hear easily. A PlwD* and especially a PlwLBD*, will often have a very low voice. You can ask them to speak up if necessary, but make it as easy for them as possible.
  • Try to be face to face. You may have to squat or sit to do this. No one feels comfortable talking to someone who is looming over them. And it will help the PlwD* to be able to see your face so they can read your lips, and even more, your facial expressions.
  • Situate yourself a little to the person’s dominant side. We all feel safer that way and for the PlwLBD, this is even stronger because they feel more vulnerable to start with.
  • Offer to hold their hand. Start with a handshake if you aren’t the primary care partner. Touch is an important part of communication. You may find that you want to hold the hand with both of yours, and that is fine.
Use good body language. Non-verbal cues are often more important than what you say.
  • Smile and be friendly, and be sure you mean it. Don’t fake it.
  • Keep your eyes on the person’s face. Don’t go looking around, or down, or close your eyes. The eyes are communicators too. Use yours to show you are interested and really want to hear what the PlwD wants to say.
When a person is having difficulty finding the right word:
  • Avoid trying to help. Think of a time when someone did that for you and it was the wrong word.You had to stop searching long enough to reject the one they suggested. For the PlwLBD, it is even more annoying. It stops their thought process and gets them off on a different track. They will probably have to start over—if they can get back to where they were.
  • Encourage the person to continue processing without interruption. Squeeze their hand, smile, nod, keep looking at them expectantly and wait. Put your whole effort into doing this supportively.
  • Listen for feelings more than words. Sometimes the words just won’t be correct. Don’t try to correct the words but respond to the feelings. You will usually be right.
With this kind of attention and encouragement, you will find that the person is able to talk much more clearly, with fewer problems. AND you will be surprised that how more interesting it will be for you than when you were just waiting. Listening is an art. Practice it. You may find yourself practicing it with others with good success too! It isn’t only the PlwD who wants to be listened to with respect and interest!

* Acronyms:
LBD: Lewy body dementia
PlwD: person living with dementia
PlwLBD: person living with LBD
DLB: dementia with Lewy bodies
PDD: Parkinson's disease with dementia
MCI: mild cognitive impairment
MCI-LB: the form of MCI that precedes LBD
BPSD: behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia

For information about Lewy body disorders, read our books:
A Caregivers’ Guide to Lewy Body Dementia
Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson's and Lewy Body Dementia

Helen and James Whitworth are not doctors. As informed caregivers, they share the information here foreducational purposes only. It should never be used instead of a physician's advice.

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