During a morning walk, one of the authors of this article met a senior citizen who was sitting alone on a bench, deep in thought. The author stopped and asked if everything was okay. The senior citizen responded that their old scooter had developed a technical snag.
The author helped the senior citizen move the scooter to a nearby workshop, and as an expression of gratitude, the senior citizen invited the author for a cup of tea at a nearby stall.
The two had a brief chat, during which the senior citizen introduced himself as an ex-Founding Director of a company in an industrial estate. Before parting, the senior citizen asked the author to write an article on the impact of empathetic, active, patient listening by youngsters on the mental health of senior citizens.
The old man shared a story about a young person with excellent academic achievements who applied for a managerial position in a big company.
The Director conducting the interview was impressed with the young man’s academic profile, but asked whether he had received any scholarships. When the young man replied in the negative, the Director asked whether his father had paid for his education.
He replied that his father had passed away when he was one year old, and it was his mother who had paid for his education. When the Director asked where his mother worked, the young man revealed that his mother worked as a dry cleaner.
The Director then asked him to see his hands. His hands were smooth and unblemished. The youth admitted to never having helped his mother with laundry, the Director told the young man to go home and clean his mother’s hands, and then come back to see the Director the next morning.
The young-man returned home and asked his mother to let them clean her hands, which she found strange but agreed to. As he cleaned his mother’s hands, he noticed that they were wrinkled and bruised, with some bruises being so painful that his mother shivered when they were washed with water.
It was the first time the young man realised the pain his mother had endured and the price his mother had paid for his academic excellence and future. That night, the mother and son talked for a long time. The next morning, the young man went to the Director’s chamber.
Noticing the tears in his eyes, the Director asked, “Can you tell me what you did and learned yesterday in your house?” He replied, “I cleaned my mother’s hands and finished cleaning all the remaining clothes.” The Director asked, “Tell me your feelings.” He replied, “I feel a deep sense of gratitude for my mother.” The Director replied, “This is what I am looking for in a manager for my company. I want to recruit someone who can appreciate and acknowledge the help and sacrifice of others in building their career.”
There are many reasons why listening skills are crucial when interacting with senior citizens. It is essential to listen closely because they may be communicating something other than what their words express.
For example, when a senior citizen complains about physical illnesses for weeks or months, and the actual cause of their discomfort has been addressed, they may continue to complain endlessly about aches and pains.
Often, this is not related to any physical pain they may be feeling, but rather an attempt to share their company and converse with someone. Senior citizens need patient listeners who are willing to hear their stories, emotions, and feelings, just like everyone else. It is important to remember that they need to be heard deeply and actively, not just superficially.
How often do we sit with senior citizens and ask them about their experiences? Have we made them feel heard and understood? Listening to senior citizens is a simple yet challenging task. Giving them the space to share what they feel and what concerns them is crucial. We can gauge that we have listened to them by the response they give us, such as a look of relief on their faces or a smile.
So, how can we make senior citizens feel heard? Here are some key points to keep in mind:
} Avoid the misconception that most senior citizens are hard of hearing and speak in a high-pitched voice while starting a conversation with them.
} Senior citizens often want to share their stories and give advice. Patiently listening to their stories might make their day.
} Senior citizens don’t need much to be happy; simply being there for them when they need you can bring them joy.
} Spend time with them, take walks together, play games, watch movies, and most importantly, make them feel heard and valued.
Let us share a case study; a son came back from abroad with his family and spent a few months with his ailing parents. Seeing her son back home, the ailing mother experienced intrinsic happiness and reengaged herself in domestic chores.
After a gap of one month, her doctor reported a marked improvement in her blood sugar level, she had regulated her blood pressure, and was feeling rejuvenated, so the doctor recommended a reduction in her medicinal dosage.
Loneliness and isolation are serious concerns for senior citizens, and research has shown that active listening can have a positive impact on their mental and physical health, as well as their quality of life.
Many studies have demonstrated that senior citizens are healthier and happier when they are more engaged with family and friends.
They have less anxiety and depression, fewer co-morbidities, and generally better cognitive health. By communicating with them regularly and genuinely listening to what they have to say, we can significantly contribute to our senior loved ones’ well-being.
Dr Zubair Saleem is a Senior Geriatric Consultant and Gerontologist and Dr Showkat Rashid Wani is a Senior Coordinator, Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK