How to Engage with Your Loved One, Even When It’s Hard

By the team at Owly, Jul 1st 2018

Sometimes it can be hard to get older people to open up. Especially if you’re new to the caretaker role and you’re just beginning to build a deeper relationship with your loved one, it can take some time and effort to gain their trust and friendship. The following ten tools are guaranteed to ease conversations with your loved one, no matter the depth of your relationship.

#1: Learning their history/baseline

Ask them questions about their past. Use reminiscence therapy techniques to draw out their happy memories. Find out about their usual interactions and behaviors from previous caretakers or friends.

#2: Normalize their feelings/actions

Listen without condescension and make a space for all feelings to be okay. Sometimes your loved one will be having a hard day, and though you can’t actually “know” how they’re feeling, you can validate their emotions by saying things like “That must be really hard” or “It’s understandable to be feeling that way. Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?”

#3: Paraphrase and engage in active listening

Repeat back to your loved one the gist of what they’ve said and ask questions that are drawn from your conversation. Use positive body language and an interested tone.

#4: Praise and empowerment

Focus on your loved one’s accomplishments, no matter how big or how small, rather than on the things that they’re unable to do. Recognize and acknowledge both their efforts and their victories.

#5: Show concern

Ask sincere questions. Keep track of things that sadden, bother or worry them and check in every time you see them.

#6: Own your own errors

Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes in your caretaker role, you’ll screw up one of the tasks that you’ve taken on for your loved one. Apologize and make yourself accountable while still retaining the boundaries of what you can and can’t do as a caretaker.

#7: Mirroring

Reflect back your loved one’s behaviors, such as their level of eye contact, their field of personal space, their use of body language, or the cadence of their speech. These actions signal that you care and will make your loved one feel more comfortable.

#8: Reduce stimulus

If your loved one lives in a nursing home and they start to get agitated during your conversation, try moving them to a quieter place to talk or take them on an outing where you can spend some time alone together. If your loved one lives alone, turn off the TV and the radio and put your phone on vibrate so that you can share a quiet space.

#9: Momentum and modeling

If something is upsetting your loved one, try to behave in the way in which you’d like them to behave. Speak in a calm, low voice; take a seat; uncross your arms. Such behaviors can inspire your loved one to follow your lead.

#10: Use their name

Even though it’s simple, sometimes hearing your own name can strengthen your sense of personal identity and soothe irritation by bringing you back to center. If you call your loved one by a title (like grandma or grandpa), use that relationship identifier, since that title will remind your loved one of the bond that you share.

You can always practice these tools with your friends and family. They can be used to strengthen and smooth nearly any relationship. They’re a great way to handle tense or aggressive situations and can be especially beneficial in conversing with people who have Dementia or Alzheimer’s. Subscribe to Ayuda's newsletter for more weekly tips, activities, and information that will help make your job as a caretaker a little bit easier! Keep posted for an article coming up soon about the ways to handle your loved one’s prejudices!

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