Who is taking the time to sit and talk with your residents? Are you?

By Kent Mulkey

This morning I broke a promise I had previously made to myself – I went to “hang out” at Starbucks. Sure, I had in mind a few things I wanted to read and work on, like the latest baseball news on ESPN, get caught up on LinkedIn, and of course read Senior Housing Forum.  

But I did none of those things. Here’s why. Because I work from home, I’m not really used to being around actual, live human beings. So today I went in public and just sat back and observed the people coming and going from Starbucks.

Here is what I discovered: about 75% of parents who sat down with their kids (to eat a sugar-laced muffin) spent the bulk of the time on their phone instead of talking with and listening to their child. On the other hand, exactly 0% of adult-to-adult conversations included neither party on their phone during the time spent talking. In yet another venue, we are ignoring our kids. Is it akin to how we ignore older adults?

This is a major issue in our society: how we relate to older adults, including the hundreds of thousands who reside in our senior communities across the country. I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown a little tired of seeing photos of residents on social media playing bingo, sitting in a line for a photo opp, eating a meal, riding the bus to the zoo, or painting a picture with watercolors? Instead, what are we doing to authentically engage them and draw up their elder status?

Who is taking the time to sit and talk with them?

The Other Side of the Coin

Here’s the other side of the same coin – you are, many of you are and perhaps even most of you are.

Just in case, here a few tips I’ve learned over the years on how to best engage an older adult. To keep me sharp, my 91-year-old mother continues to teach me!

  1. Sit down and get at eye level. They need to see your face, your eyes, your lips so they can engage all of you. If you show them a present, engaged face, they can then see your warm, present heart.

  2. Ask questions. Make the interaction about them. If a resident seems slow to respond, it may not at all mean they have cognitive impairment. They are just slower to respond than you or me.

  3. Listen. Be quiet. This is usually when we start thinking about how busy we are and need to get back to work. This IS the work. This is why we work there.

  4. Touch. A hand on their shoulder. A hug. Holding a hand lets them know you are fully engaged and present and that you are not in a hurry (even if you feel in a hurry).

And one takeaway – If you are in management of a senior community or visiting one from a central office, you are busy. Apply the five-minute rule. Always be ready and willing to take five minutes to talk with a resident. You will spend a mere .001% of your day doing what is perhaps the most important thing you can do at all.