One of our basic human needs is to be heard and understood. With Parkinson’s, we often experience a real difference between what we think we are saying and what other people are actually hearing and understanding. It is frustrating when we are speaking but seem to be communicating poorly. We are talking about something important — medications, managing symptoms, asking for directions, exploring a new idea, sharing a difficult emotion, confronting an issue of conflict — and it seems like we are just not getting our point across. And the more important our message, the more likely it seems we have problems communicating it. It is as though we are speaking different dialects of the same language. We can come close to knowing what we are saying to each other, but often there remains a gap in communication.
A couple of weeks ago, one of our DBS (deep brain stimulation) support group members called and said his wife was going to stop attending the monthly meetings because she couldn’t hear or understand the soft-spoken voices of those with Parkinson’s.
We felt that others in the group may also be experiencing this lack of communication. We valued her as a member and didn’t want her to drop out. We decided to find a solution so that all of us could be heard in this large, high ceiling room. At the next meeting, we arranged for the room to be set up differently. Instead of long rectangular tables in a u-shape, smaller round tables were used to facilitate interaction. A few minutes before the meeting when people took their seats, the round tables made it more comfortable for people to socialize. There was enough space for people to maneuver between tables without tripping over canes, walkers or wheelchairs.
The facility had a few wireless and wired microphones which were placed on the tables for the convenient use of the support group members.
The speaker was John McDonald of Medtronic who spoke about DBS. John encouraged questions and comments throughout his presentation. He made sure those that had something to say had a microphone so that their questions or comments could at least be heard and hopefully understood. With those who had difficulty being understood, John respectfully summarized their message for the audience.
With the use of the microphones, people who usually remained quiet spoke up. Those who typically talked too much listened more and spoke less. With being heard and understood, the entire group experienced a sense of mastery and accomplishment similar to their pre-Parkinson’s days.
All of us gave and received the greatest gift at that meeting—the gift of being heard and understood by others. I get goose bumps just thinking about it!