Take time to listen to the silent; they have so much to say

I realised the other day that the word listen is an anagram of the word silent. That got me thinking...

As the group facilitator for a dementia self help project I have now facilitated over 70 self-help groups for people living with dementia/ memory problems. What have I learnt? To listen, to connect, communicate, share, to care and support each other… isn’t that what life is all about?

Too often people living with dementia, and other mental health issues and conditions, are not heard. They are often discussed at conferences in planning care but not given a voice of their own.

Frustration of not being listened to seems to lead to two different outcomes. Either there is a withdrawal and a closing down; a giving up (some might call it depression). Sometimes this change goes unnoticed or deemed part of the ‘illness’; the person can pose little difficulty to others and is seen to be meek and compliant. The second outcome can be a sudden outburst of frustration; of not being understood or listened to. This explosion is often labelled “challenging behaviour” or “aggression”.

Not being listened to chips away confidence. Some people choose to remain silent; through fear of saying the wrong thing, or feeling a failure, or being criticised by others, or being “inappropriate”. For others due to the changes occurring in the brain there is difficulty of finding the right word to say, and needing time to think and express it, yet often being interrupted by more vocal or articulate people.

Facilitating the self-help groups has been an opportunity for people living with dementia to be given a voice - and what a voice! Full of wisdom. Spending time with older people (I’m talking about people aged 85+) is like tasting a well matured cheese or matured wine, so much to savour.

To listen is not always an easy place to be. To be silent in company can sometime be even harder but if we can listen to the silent – we will gain so much for ourselves. As a friend once said to me “We have two ears and one mouth, try and use them in that proportion!”

Take time to listen to the silent; they have so much to say.