Do we take the time to listen to what senior loved ones and parents are saying? Listeners rarely remember 10 percent of what people are saying; when they do listen, 10 percent of what was said was remembered in chunks and with very little connection. One of the most important skills in caregiving is listening, and even if words are not uttered there are other clues, expressions, and sounds a caregiver must understand.

Unfortunately, some conversations are shaped into disconnected chunks of words, where we’ve allowed external and internal actions to shape the discussion. These interferences are keeping us from understanding and actively listening. Before listening and carrying on a conversation with an older adult or senior, some people have already internalized and made up their minds about the person who is talking. Unfortunately, some individuals bring in sets of opinions and values, which sometimes interfere with understanding and listening to a senior. Sad but true.

What limits listening and understanding?

- Time constraints impact our listening. We need to “make time” or become more productive listeners. Our neatly packed agenda full of chores and tasks gives us little time to listen, let alone spend some quality moments with family members, senior friends and even the 90-year-old neighbor across the street we have not seen in six or seven days

- We become so worried about what we are going to say that we get stressed and miss the context of the entire conversation.

- Bringing “baggage” or a set of predispositions and judgments limits our ability to listen and to understand the person who is speaking. Based on what a person may be wearing, or how their teeth look, may veil and interfere with our listening and understanding the senior speaker. We cannot make assumptions based on how people look.

- There is no interest in communicating and listening, and as listeners we start looking around to find ways to exit the conversation. Seniors and children can pick up on this attitude quite rapidly.

- There is a lack of empathy and concern about what the other person is saying

The National Aphasia Association offers some great communication tips to follow when communicating and listening to people who have aphasia. The wonderful part about their helpful tips is that we can apply some of these tips to many instances in our lives, even if a person does not have aphasia. Two of these tips are the following:

- Give them time to speak.  Resist the urge to finish sentences or offer words

- Minimize or eliminate background noise (TV, radio, other people).

Aphasia is defined as a language impairment that affects the production and/or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write, according to the National Aphasia Association.

Cherishing Special Conversations

The moments we cherished the most are the moments we shared with our senior loved ones and the activities that brought us closer together. Do I remember where I sat when my mother told me about her war-related stories? At the breakfast table, as she baked her coffeecake and while the aroma of baked apples mixed in with the cinnamon, I was all big-eared listening to my mother as she spoke with that unique soft cadence in her voice. She spoke as if she was reading her memoirs to a very attentive audience, and I was part of her audience.

We hope these tips about listening are helpful to you and your loved ones. Senior Helpers of Orlando understands the importance of being able to communicate and understand our seniors and older adults.

Ana P. DeLane

Senior Helpers of Orlando Team Member

Resources: Aphasia Definitions, National Aphasia Association (NAA), retrieved from

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