Here’s a short story about my visits with seniors and the inspiration behind my book, I See Old People®.
How I start
Walking into a senior home to visit those struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s is not an easy act. From the loud outbursts the residents sometimes make, to the unpleasant smells, to the sadness and loneliness, you have to work VERY hard to smile and bring light into the room. You can definitely say, I faked it a lot.
When I enter the main room of an assisted living facility, I walk in purposefully and make an entrance like no other. I smile with a grin as big as the state of Texas. Speaking so loudly that I almost burst my own ear drum, I let everyone know I arrived. I’d say something like, “Well HELLO there. Let’s get this PARTY STARTED.” You could say I play pretend like a five-year-old child who decides to have a tea party with friends.
And guess what? I swear to you the energy in the room changes and most everyone begins to laugh. The senior residents have no idea who I am or what I’m doing (neither do I if you want to know the truth). It doesn’t matter. What matters is I make them laugh. It feels like I’m Carol Burnett greeting her audience as she starts her variety show.
Your attitude can change your entire day
I’m not saying it’s easy. It never is. Frankly, I’m not “Susie Sunshine” every day of the week. And yet, this skill of mine – to fake it till I feel it – has served me well throughout my lifetime. Whether at home raising a young highly spirited male child, at the office amongst difficult colleagues, or with perfect strangers who need to hear a kind voice, I understood how my energy affected the world around me. It was a powerful discovery.
We all have this energy inside of us. Sometimes we choose to hide it. That’s okay too. I’ve done it myself when things weren’t going well for me. And yet, every time, I faked it till I felt it, the person on the receiving end lit up like a kid blowing out the candles on a cake. The smile, the friendly attitude, the appreciation that someone cared enough to ask “how ya doin?,” it set off my happy endorphins for the entire day.
Practice makes perfect
You don’t have to visit a senior home to practice it yourself. You can use your “happy voice” with a customer service professional and I promise you, you’ll delight the person on the other end of the phone line.
Here’s an example. Recently, I had a conversation with a customer representative from a very large Fortune 500 company. He answered the phone with “Hello, this is Brian from Denver. Who do I have the pleasure of speaking with today?” With a toothy grin, I say, “HI THERE. This is Jeanne from Seattle. I’m living the dream. How can I make your day?” You can just about hear the pin drop on the other end. After a few seconds of silence, shock, and perhaps bewilderment, I’m then greeted with a hearty chuckle and a “WOW, I didn’t expect that one.”
Sometimes our conversations will go further and I’ll discover that my rep and I have far more in common than a transaction. It’s fun, different, and gives new meaning to the expression “make my day.”
Yes, it isn’t easy to talk to a stranger, to walk into a sad situation, or show up for something you dread. The first step is all it takes. You’ll find the words. You’ll find the kindness. Even if you have to fake it till you feel it.
Look for Jeanne’s book and memoir, I see old People®, to come out in 2021. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram too.
For more ideas about conversation starters for people with dementia, click on this link: https://rb.gy/fbc4ge
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