The Power of the Dedicated Listener

I missed my mother and I missed being around people who have Alzheimer’s. So I volunteered to visit people living in a memory care unit.

Donna greeted me warmly. She wore a man’s plaid shirt, black sweat pants and worn tennis shoes. She was lean and restless, her hands a nest one moment and a flying bird the next.

“She likes to talk,” was all the staff told me.

She noticed my orange shirt and I told her it was seersucker.

“Yes, he had a suit,” she said. Her gaze was earnest and her words seemed urgent. Listening to her was an archaeological experience: hills of dust and sand with an occasional gem of a multi-syllable word.

“I knew they needed to triangulate,” she told me. “But then the 466 of them fell into the 375.”

She looked into my eyes as she spoke and I tried to intuit what she was telling me.

The aide who introduced me hadn’t known anything about Donna’s background and I wondered if she’d been an accountant, manager, or entrepreneur.

“How did you feel about that triangulation?”  I asked.

“Not good.”

”Tell me more about that.”

She offered a stream of eroded words, with major letters worn away.

As we talked, I felt I was dog paddling through rough seas, clinging onto whole words and struggling to understand her. But maybe I was trying too hard.

At the end of her time together, she smiled.

“Good,” she said. “This was good.”

Maybe it was enough for her to talk and have a dedicated listener.


Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.


  1. menskapitaal on September 3, 2014 at 8:21 am

    Reblogged this on MENSkapitaal and commented:
    Mooie illustratie over een gesprek tussen 2 mensen die elkaar goed aanvoelen.

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