Mindful Listening Leaves Its Mark

by Rebecca Shafir

In my quest to expand the scope of what it means to be a mindful listener, I may divert to the less obvious, but equally powerful effects listening can have. Have you a parent or an older friend with short term memory loss?

These folks live in the moment, they may not remember what happened 2 minutes ago (unless the event was highly emotional), they repeat themselves a lot, and their family members are exhausted having to re-tell news and instructions. I have several friends with parents like this, and they mention that they don’t bother calling or dropping in on them much. They say, “Why bother calling? My dad (or mom) doesn’t remember anyway.”

I say, they do remember, just differently. My father, Paul, is proof. He’s 92 a WW2 Vet, likes to socialize and tell jokes. You’d never know he’s got a severe short term memory loss, that is, until he starts to re-tell the same jokes. I’m near Boston and my family is in Chicago. My mom claims that, minutes after my “almost daily” phone calls he’s in a better mood, but he doesn’t know why. There’s more spring in his step, he eats better and is more cooperative. How can that be? The essence of that 10 minute interaction activated his brain; new brain cells sprouted and others were refreshed. The conversation left some kind of a neural footprint that calmed and energized him. Something as trivial as haggling about the weather, the election, or laughing at the same old jokes is powerful enough to change one’s physiology in a positive way. I’m happier knowing that our daily conversations make the day a little lighter for my family.  

It’s well documented that the brain changes as a function of experience at any age. Your call can make a big difference in someone’s health and your own. Mindful Listening is generous and patient. Give an older person (with or without memory challenges) a call this week, and see what it does for you.