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Listening is a real gift at Christmas

Really engaged communication can light up a room anywhere and care homes are no different. For many people living in them, especially if they have dementia, this time of year may prompt memories of times past – after all, they have experienced quite a few! Sharing the stories matters to both the teller and the listener because it helps support good care. But it’s not always so easy, so here are some simple techniques to get started…

Creating a theme
With their long-term memory intact for many years, given a little time, older people living with more advanced dementia can tell surprising stories about Christmas past. Of course, not everyone may want to remember, but themes such as ‘my best Christmas ever’, ‘my favourite Christmas food’, ‘Christmas carols I always enjoy singing’, or ‘my favourite person at Christmas’ can prompt fun conversations.

Suggestions for the theme
Offering up a few ideas related to the theme before inviting the other person to join in, gives them time to recall their own Christmas memories. For example, you might begin by prompting cheerful sensory associations, like the tree with its lights and sparkly decorations; church carol services or pantomimes; the smell of Christmas pudding, or the taste of roast potatoes. Anticipation is an important part of Christmas for a young person, like the exciting rustle of a full stocking on the bedcovers at the crack of Christmas dawn…

An easy starter recipe
A great conversation starter is “Tell me about… (just add whatever you want to know about). If your interest is genuine, the other person will usually respond well with a personal story.

I asked one man to tell me about toys at Christmas. He told me, “I came from a large family in Liverpool and we were very poor. I have no memories of toys at all, but we used to play with kindling wood and every other type of wood scrap. You could keep yourself amused for hours making different things – and with a penknife, almost anything was possible.” christmas-kindle

Financial poverty such as this might be hard to imagine today, even if being able to make things with a penknife would have brought its own pleasures. Right at the end, he added, “Recently my 12-year old step grand-daughter bought me a wonderful teddy bear. It’s the only one I’ve ever owned…” Insights into a person’s life like this, connects us across the generations.

Real communication is what all of us crave – when we share and someone listens well, it shows us that we matter, it is the lynch-pin of good care and what’s more, it has the power to make Christmas really special.

Thank you to Sarah Reed, Dementia Communication Specialist and Author of Many Happy Returns Chatterbox Cards.

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