How to be an Effective Listener (Public article)

Public article

By Jane Verity © Dementia Care International

Be sensitive to the person with dementia’s unique communication style, including their non-verbal messages. Stop and listen for their contributions and leads then immerse yourself in the moment by listening with heart and feeling.

Ask yourself:

  • What is this person attempting to communicate?
  • Do they have a need that is not being fulfilled?

Use your body language to show the person you are listening 100% and use touch to build a bridge between you both whilst acknowledging your own and the other person’s boundaries. Remember that the person in the initial stages of dementia may feel frightened by physical contact.

You can also use your intuition as a guide to help you guess what the person with dementia may be attempting to communicate. They may tell you a story held together with sounds that you find difficult to understand. However, if you listen intensely and ask genuine questions about what you have understood, you are encouraging the person to mobilise their communication.

Seven Steps to Effective Listening

1.  Accept the person unconditionally

2.  Listen with respect and warmth

3.  Make sure you focus and listen intently

4.  Use as few words as possible

5.  Use body language and sounds to acknowledge what the other person is expressing

6.  Reflect in words what you think they are saying, (your interpretation of what you have heard)

7.  Wait for them to respond.

Take the time for a meaningful response for it is in the pause, in waiting with patience, that magic happens.

People in the later stages of dementia may still be able reconnect with the spoken language and speak in words and fluent sentences. The key is to listen effectively and create a positive emotional connection with the person.