Communicating With Seniors Made Easier

  • I’ve always thought I was pretty intuitive. I’m not a controlling person and can be patient to my own detriment. Why am I telling you what a great person I am? Because, after reading HOW TO SAY IT To Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders, I realize that I could have done some things better, as far as my elder caregiving was concerned.


    I’ll spare you the details of how I beat myself up, and yes, I’m getting over it. I did the best I could, and I did pretty well. However, David Solie, M.S., P.A., an expert in geriatric psychology and the CEO and medical director of Second Opinion, a life insurance brokerage corporation, has written a book that can really open the eyes of caregiver and senior alike.


    The book puts out for examination Solie’s opinions, and I’m sure there are those who would argue a few. Overall, though, I’d say he offers numerous examples of how the aging brain works, that, once thought about, would bring many an “aha! moment” to the average caregiver (and/or senior).


    Take his treatment of “The Redemptive Power of Backing Off.” Solie points out what should be obvious to the caregiver, but is easy to forget – the senior’s continual loss of control. As our bodies and minds age, we lose control over so many aspects of our lives, that it can make us stubborn, even when faced with a choice that is obviously in our best interest. (Bear with me, I’m on the leading edge of boomers and, by some measures, a senior, so I am using “we” an awful lot in this post).


    So, you want Mom to move out of her house. The bedroom and bathroom are on the second floor. The roof leaks. The basement is moldy. You say, “Mom, lets move you into that brand new “over 55” apartment complex with elevators, a restaurant and emergency help. Mrs. Anderson already lives there, so you have an instant friend.”


    Mom says “NO! I’m not moving. I like it here. This is my home. It’s too much work and I’ve got too much to get rid of.” You push. She shoves. Solie says, “Duh!”


    I’m joking! Solie says what we all should instinctively know. Back off. Let Mom take her time and make her decision. He brilliantly suggests that you say something like, “Okay, Mom. Let’s do it your way. I’ll get estimates on how much it will cost to add on a new bedroom and bath, so you can stay here without falling down the stairs. We’ll get someone to clean out the mold and fix the roof.”


    Before you’re half done, Mom’s saying, “Wait! That’s too expensive. Let’s go look at that apartment.” It’s all about control.


    Solie’s book is about seniors discovering their legacy. Seniors are looking back at their lives from what he says is a new developmental stage, and trying to figure out why they were here and what they will leave behind.


    He says that, “What looks like diminished capacity in the majority of the aging population is nothing more than an awareness by that person that he or she is on a different developmental mission….brain functions that do change in old age actually enhance an elderly person’s ability to refocus life’s priorities…”


    Solie discusses this refocusing throughout the book. As we enter this new phase, we reexamine our lives from a different perspective. Solie says that our aging bodies force us to slow down, which leads us to more introspection. We’ve outgrown the outward focus of young adults, and are looking inward.


    Now, I’ve been a caregiver for seven elders, four of whom had different forms of dementia. Many of you who are reading this are caring for Alzheimer’s patients. This kind of regression, the kind that occurs in dementia, is very different than what Solie is describing. People who develop dementia are cruelly deprived of this last, important stage of their lives – figuring out their legacy; their reason for having been on earth.


    However, three of my elders did not suffer from dementia. Before my mother was diagnosable as a dementia patient, I went through the old “trying to get her to move for her own good” phase. She never did. She put it off until her only real choice was a nursing home. I did have the patience to wait for her to make that decision, for which I’m thankful.


    HOW TO TALK TO SENIORS can help turn around, or at least simplify, some relationships. By reading Solie’s entertaining stories and thinking about his examples, caregivers can see better ways to deal with natural age-related stubbornness. They can learn to suck it up when they are listening Dad’s story for the umpteenth time, because they know there is a developmental reason behind it. They can overlook Mom’s mental side-trip as she drags out the answer to a direct question. Just knowing that some of these frustrating habits of aging people are normal and actually have a purpose can help a caregiver be more patient. Simply understanding the loss of control the elder is feeling – empathizing with the senior – can smooth out some rough spots, making caregiving a bit easier.


    HOW TO TALK TO SENIORS, published by Prentice Hall Press, is available for $15.95 at book stores and on-line.


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Published On: February 01, 2007