A clinical trial funded by the National Cancer Institute developed a program to improve the health of spousal family caregivers. In reviewing it, I found it to be valuable for all caregivers. This study showed positive physical, mental and psychological effects from adding the activity of attentive listening into a daily practice.
We cannot fix our loved one’s illness but we can make their emotional path smoother. Become an active listener to the person you are caring for. Allow them to talk about their illness or whatever is on their mind.
When I worked in ICU, patients confided in me their sorrow of not being able to talk to their children, spouse and family members about their thoughts, wishes and concerns of their illness. They saw and felt their family’s sadness as they walked in the room and did not want to cause them more sorrow. So, they swallowed their feelings and ideas leaving them to feel sad and lonely.
To avoid hurt and sadness to all parties involved, family members often respond by saying, “let’s not talk about it now,” “You will be fine,” “you are not going to die.” The ill person’s request and desire to be heard is blocked leaving them feeling overlooked and insignificant. What they wanted to say was important but they were denied the opportunity to express their feelings.
We can create an environment of peace and acceptance.
Sit, be still and listen.
Everyone wants to feel that they matter and are listened to.
Attentive listening is a gift from a caregiver to their loved one.
Attentive listening is a gift to the family caregiver.
Listening is a gift for everyone.
Having an open discussion benefits both the person who is ill, family members and caregivers. Understanding and compassion between all parties takes root. Sadness and joy can be expressed, leaving everyone a with sense of comfort, ease and love.
Are family members afraid of end-of-life goodbyes? The terminally ill patient does not feel this way. They want to talk to you. Give them the space to open up and tell you their beliefs and opinions.
Caregivers need someone to listen to them to express their feeling and concerns.
Attentive listening helps people to be feel seen and heard. Be a sounding board to them. You can provide them an outlet for their feelings and thoughts. The caregiver will feel relief and acquire skills of better communication and acceptance in their role. They will feel they are important, significant and know they were not overlooked. They can return to their day relaxed and confident about their role.
Suggestions for attentive listening for those who are ill and for the caregiver.
Let a person speak what is on their mind.
- Do not rush them or fill in the blanks.
- Do not interrupt them.
- Do not patronize them.
- Do not disrespect them.
- If a person has dementia, avoid correcting them.
- Be aware of your non-verbal language, allowing them freedom to talk without worrying that they are hurting your feelings.
- Be present. Do not think about what else you can be doing instead of listening to them. They will notice that you are distracted.
- Ask open ended questions. “I heard you talking to...about how are you feeling. Would you mind telling me your thoughts?”
- Just listen. You do not have to solve their problems.
Roe Chiacchio is a cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation RN, personal trainer and certified dementia practitioner. She integrates her background into a specialized style of training for each of her clients and shares her perspective and knowledge in her articles published at PenBay Pilot. Her business, ONWARD, Cardiovascular Heath, Wellness and Dementia Management is located in Camden, Maine. For more information, contact Roe at 207 249-8166, or roechiacchio@ gmail.com.