*NOTE: OK, Jay-Z did not really guest write this, but this post contains many Jay-Z song titles. Use the comments section below to see how many you can identify!
During the late stages of aging, your Mom may stop speaking. When she disengages, you may feel blocked out and frustrated. Meanwhile, Mom may feel just as frustrated, as she cannot express her needs. It can be a difficult time for both of you.
“Don’t You Know,” your time with Mom should be so much more than sitting in silence, watching the clock. With the following blueprint, you can empower both of you and solve the “silent senior situation” forever.
First, “Get Your Mind Right”
- Empathize. Start by putting yourself in her shoes.
- Imagine what it is like as a suddenly silent senior. When you cannot speak, it is easy to feel isolated, like you cannot connect to those around you.
- Ignore. There may be a part of you that says “Lucky Me” and feels down about it. Ignore that part. Start with a mindset of “I Just Wanna Love U.”
- Forgive and feet forward. This is not your fault. This is not her fault. This is not an encore to relieving history or rehashing memories. Every family has regrets. Time to move “On to the Next One”.
- Focus on what’s next. You get an “Encore” to make new memories with Mom.
Remember the Necessary Non-verbals
People express just as much through body language as through words. With a gentle touch and a watchful eye, you will be able to tell if Mom is “Feelin’ It,” even without words.
- Smile and maintain eye contact. There is nothing like a smile to make a connection.
- Read the subtle facial expressions. There is a reason we say the eyes are the window to the soul. You will be able to detect subtle emotions in her face.
- Watch for responses. Tension often shows itself in the face and shoulders. If her shoulders creep up or her face tightens, you are making her uncomfortable. You know you are doing something right when that tension evaporates.
Carry On a Conversation
Be patient when talking with your elderly loved ones. Keep the following tips in mind to make conversations with Mom “A Dream.”
- Sit face to face. This helps Mom see your expressions and read your lips. “Face Off” and show that you are giving her your full attention.
- Start soft. Say hello in a slow, clear, and warm manner. Give the conversation some time before jumping into more complex or complicated conversational topics.
- Keep the conversation simple and clear. Stick to one topic. Keep your sentences short, simple and to the point. This will help her keep track of the conversation. That means talking at a slow and steady pace and at a good volume.
- Allow extra time to think. Give her the time she needs to respond. You may have “A Million and One Questions,”, but you do not need to ask them all at once.
- Move past the past, even if you disagree with her beliefs or notice her memories are wrong. Correcting her only brings the conversation to a halt.
- Ask if you do not understand. Do not be afraid to ask Mom to repeat or clarify her thoughts so you can reach that “Moment of Clarity”.
- Use names, not pronouns. Refer to people by their names, instead of using ‘she’ and ‘he.’ It helps both of you to be clear on “What We Talkin’ About”.
- Narrate your actions. If you are providing any hands-on care, talk about what you are doing in a smooth and consistent manner. Ask her if what you are doing feels good, and keep your touches light.
Speak the Language of Doing
There are plenty of activities the two of you can do together besides talking. Anything aside from sitting may help you both. Doing things together says “You Must Love Me” to your senior participant.
- Be musical. Music is a powerful tool for seniors. It provides distraction, relaxation and enjoyment. Music resonates in the deep parts of our brains and studies show that it is an effective therapeutic tool. Tied to memory, it can transport you back to the meaningful moments of your life. Play Mom’s favorite tunes and you will see the joy on her face.
- Read together. Read to her. Whether she loves to hear her favorite stories or just likes listening to your voice, reading can be a great way to bond and bridge the silent divide.
- See nature. Get out and get some fresh air. Go sit in your “Beach Chair.” Enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the great outdoors and feel their rejuvenating effects.
- Play a board game. Chess or checkers anyone? “Bring It On!” A well-loved puzzle or strategy game works the brain and needs no words.
- Scrapbook. You and Mom may mentally connect well with the old times. Once the scrapbook is completed, she will be able to go through the pictures any time she wants. Scrapbooking helps memories stay “Young Forever”.
- Write together. Writing connects with a different part of the cortex than speech. You may find Mom is more comfortable with constructing an open letter to the editor than with chatting.
You may have “99 Problems” but a silent senior is not one. Instead, this is an opportunity for you to show your love and patience in a new way. Follow these tips and “Breathe Easy.” It will amaze you how well you can understand Mom’s needs and desires, even when she can no longer verbalize them.
Shayne Fitz-Coy is the Co-CEO and President of the aging-in-place tech company Alert-1, with offices nationwide. Shayne has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Harvard College—where he nurtured his appreciation for Jay-Z’s poetic lyricism—and an MBA from Stanford. Shayne hails from Maryland, and now calls the Bay Area home.