Elderly people, who are experiencing health issues that keep them from church and other ordinary activities, have often touched our hearts. We shake our heads, whisper a prayer for the Lord to undertake and provide for them, and then we go on our way.
Perhaps it is time for us to be part of the provision.
Effective listening is a key to any type of communication, and certainly vital to ministering to our senior citizens. There are many resources dealing with communication, and the art of listening is always stressed. It is helpful to refer to these resources to obtain suggestions about interacting with people who are hurting.
Good communication hinges on the premise that each participant hears the same information and accurately processes what he or she hears.
Some of the obstacles to communication are:
- Hearing loss
- Grief and/or depression
- Dementia or mental confusion.
Listening to what people say and watching their body language will aid us in understanding what our conversation should contain and how we need to communicate.
For instance, if they have a hearing loss and are not wearing hearing aids, we need to raise the level of our voice so we can be heard. Some people do not like to admit they can’t hear, so we need to judge by their responses.
When we feel our duty is to impart a word from the Lord, or to lead them in a mini-church service, their desires are often overlooked. They often just need to talk with someone. Their life situation often determines what they need to verbalize. Each person is special and unique, and each one will deal with problems in a different way.
The only way we can be effective is to respond to their needs.
- Be cheerful, smile and make eye contact.
- Be thoughtful and considerate – watch for signs of weariness or pain.
- Listen to what they are saying and encourage them to tell you more.
- Ask questions that show a genuine interest in the person.
- Weave your conversation around what is important or interesting to them.
- Point out how they have made a difference and how they are needed.
- Give verbal recognition of their abilities and strengths.
- Refrain from telling them that they just need more faith, or advising them on medical procedures or physical activity.
- Show them affection by sharing some of your life when appropriate.
Elderly people may have no living relatives, and they are frightened of the future.
Loneliness can be agonizing for them. We cringe from showing the very ill or elderly affection by giving them a hug because they may have offensive body order or may have some type of disfiguration. However, ask permission before giving them a hug because they may feel physical contact is too personal and are happy with just your interest in them.
They may be struggling to accept issues such as terminal illness, loss of memory, disability, death of a loved one, fear or depression.
- Allow them to express their feelings and fears.
- Be real – show empathy.
- Don’t pretend everything will be alright, but share your faith.
- Be non-judgmental and don’t belittle their situation or feelings.
- Ask if you can pray for them before you leave.
We do not need to search for a way to minister – hurting people are all around us. Do we care enough to make the difference their lives?