Communicating with a Demonstrator About Personal Needs
Demonstrators are the neighbor everyone wants to have. They’re outgoing, helpful, and friendly. They live to help others. They turn any meeting into a social occasion, they’re on every committee, and they are natural cheerleaders—happy at other’s successes and willing to be a ray of sunshine on everyone’s darkest day.
However, demonstrators are often so good at caring for others that they can forget themselves and their own needs. As a caregiver or loved one, you may find it challenging to discover what their needs are and to persuade them that those needs are important, maybe even urgent. Since demonstrators tend to live in the moment, they may also resist attempts at long-term planning. However, there are a few things you can do to make conversations about personal needs more effective and enjoyable.
General Tips for Communicating with a Demonstrator
- Begin with a compliment.
- Gently redirect the conversation from tangents.
- Be spontaneous.
- Start with feelings.
- Focus on the big picture, save details for later.
- Work together on formal plans.
- Be prepared to move on quickly.
Grounding the high-flying demonstrator in uncomfortable realities can be difficult, but communicating in a style that reaches them can make the conversations easier.
Discussing Personal Concerns with a Demonstrator
Demonstrators age well and tend to have rich social connections, but that can bring on its own issues. While every person faces unique issues in their daily lives, the following broad categories sum up many of the issues you’re likely to encounter.
Demonstrators crave company and engagement, and they don’t like to devote a lot of thought to their living situations. Because they love being around people, they’ll often be the person floating the idea of moving to a senior community or assisted living center where they can leave the day-to-day chores to others and focus on building relationships. However, their desire to please people and avoid conflict can sometimes get them into disturbing, or even outright dangerous, living situations.
Etienne’s stepfather, Ricardo, had been lonely since his wife had died. While his step-children made a special effort to look in on him and care for him, they all lived out of town. Etienne, the geographically closest child, lived three hours away. He called on the phone several times a week, but sensed that his stepfather wasn’t telling him something. “I’ll be coming into town on Thursday,” he told Ricardo. “I’ll pick you up and we can have lunch.” “I’d better meet you there,” Ricardo said. “Why? You love my car! It’s supposed to be a great day. We can put the top down and go for a drive in the hills.” “I have a roommate now. He’d rather you not come by the house.” “A roommate? Why? Since when? Why can’t I meet him?” Etienne fired one question after another. “I can’t talk. I have to go.” Ricardo, normally chatty and happy, hung up the phone.
Worried, Etienne surprised Ricardo with a visit the next day. The roommate wasn’t home, but from the paraphernalia around the house, it was obvious that Ricardo had let a drug user, perhaps even a dealer, move in. Ricardo explained that he’d offered the man a room after meeting him at a senior event. He’d seemed nice, and was just temporarily down on his luck. Now Ricardo was afraid to confront him because he feared a violent reaction or some sort of retaliation. “That’s ridiculous. This is your house and we’re going to the police. I’m sure other people have had the same problem.” Etienne took his stepfather down to the station and helped him file a report. After the roommate’s arrest it became clear that Ricardo wasn’t the first local senior to have been deceived by the man, and the police handled the situation.
Demonstrators spend most of their energy and attention on relationships. When they worked, they were the ones who organized retirement parties, knew who had just had surgery, and remembered to ask after people’s kids. In the family, they loved birthdays and celebrations, were the ‘fun mom’ every kid wanted to hang out with, and were the hub of all of the social activities and gatherings. When a demonstrator is widowed, she’s unlikely to sit at home in mourning. She gets her energy from being with people and is likely to form new relationships. However, some of these relationships can turn romantic very quickly, and this often presents problems for adult children and other caregivers.
Chessa, Danika’s youngest daughter, enjoyed visiting her widowed mother at the senior living community when she was back in town. Her mother’s apartment had a guest room, and the two women enjoyed golfing, swimming, and tennis together. Everyone in the community knew Danika, and Chessa would laugh about how she had a gaggle of men who seemed to follow her and hang on her every word. It was good to see that her mom was making an active life for herself after her dad’s long illness and sudden death. It was like Danika was a flower, suddenly in bloom and soaking up the sun after a long, dark winter. Chessa was happy and felt good about her mom’s new life.
Then, one day when she was visiting and her mom was out at an exercise class, Chessa decided to help with the laundry. Her mom had always been something of a tornado when it came to housekeeping, and there was laundry all over the bedroom. As she was cleaning it up, Chessa found a man’s sock tangled in a heap of her mother’s clothes under the bed. It was all that she could do not to ambush her mom at the door, scream at her about safety, boundaries, and disease, and spark a major conversation. That’s what Chessa felt like doing, but she knew confrontation was a sure-fire way to make Danika shut down.
Instead, she tried to stay calm. “Mom, I found a man’s sock in your room, and I feel scared,” Chessa said. “It makes me worry about your safety and your health. Are you…” “Taking precautions?” Danika laughed merrily. “Honey, I’m 75. I promise, you’re the last baby.” “No mom,” Chessa insisted, “precaution against STDs. It’s not just young people who get sick. Let’s make an appointment for you to see your doctor. She’ll help you make good decisions about protection, so you can keep having fun and I can stop worrying.” Danika shook her head, but called her doctor and set up an appointment. “You’ve always been such a worrier, Chessa,” she said. “More like a mother than a daughter. But I made the appointment, and I will tell her about Albert. Are you happy?” Chessa shook her head. “Not unless we go out for coffee and you tell me about Albert too.” Danika grinned broadly. “I know a great new place. We were just there last week.”
Demonstrators are active, outgoing, and unlikely to focus on negative details. That means they’ll often forget to ask for help or to realize where they could benefit from outsourcing tasks as they age. As a caregiver, you may find it challenging to identify issues and head off trouble. Often, with a demonstrator, you won’t see what’s going wrong until it has reached a crisis point.
Rosa depended on her car. She had an active social life, was involved in several community groups, and loved to be on the go exploring new places and meeting new people. Before she’d retired, she’d saved up and bought a little blue convertible. Around town, it was synonymous with her. People would look for the blue car and then stop in at stores and restaurants just to say hello to Rosa. Rosa took great care of her car, so Alea, her daughter, was surprised when found a bill from the body shop on her mother’s table. “Oh, I just had a little fender bender. It was the other person’s fault. No big deal.” The next month, there was another bill, for a different ‘little ding.’ Alea noticed her mother’s insurance premiums were going up too. Rosa seemed to be having a lot of ‘little accidents’ that were no one’s fault. Alea had a sneaking suspicion that it was time for her mother to give up the car before the ‘little fender benders’ became ‘major wrecks.’
There was no good way to approach the subject. Whenever Alea tried to bring it up, Rosa deflected her questions. Finally Alea gave up, and tried a direct route. “Mom, you’ve always been such a great driver, and everyone loves seeing you around town,” Alea said. “I’m worried about all of these little accidents you’ve been having. There are too many for it to be just bad luck. It’s time to stop driving.” “No,” Rosa said firmly. “I am not riding around in some taxi cab. I worked hard for this car.” “What if we hire someone to drive you in your own car? You’ll still get to enjoy it, and you won’t keep running up all of these body shop bills.” Rosa agreed to give a driver a try—for her car’s sake—and soon discovered that she liked the freedom that came from having someone else do the driving and help her on her errands.
Demonstrators aren’t known for their attention to detail and focus. That means that it can be difficult to distinguish their normal personality traits from the beginnings of cognitive difficulties without input from a physician. As a caregiver, you may notice the warning signs of Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia before anyone else does.
Violet had always moved from topic to topic in conversation and left boring tasks undone until prompted. She’d been known to slack off on laundry and make idiosyncratic fashion choices based on her current mood (and what happened to be clean). She never could remember directions or schedules. Ellie, her next door neighbor, was worried, though. While Violet had never had much of a memory for things, she’d always remembered people. She could meet a person in the grocery store and recall their life history. Over the last year, that had changed. Violet seemed a bit confused when she met people out and about. Instead of instantly launching into a conversation with them, she was hanging back and asking vague questions, almost as if she was looking for clues to their identities. Ellie tried to explain the change to other friends in the community, but they were unworried. “Violet’s fine,” they said. “She’s always been a bit spacey.”
Ellie sat down with Violet over some iced tea and cookies to talk about what she was noticing. “Violet, I’m worried about your memory. Can you talk to your doctor about it? There are some great new treatments on the market that can stop or even reverse memory loss, and if you take care of it now, you’ll avoid problems down the road.” When Violet agreed, Ellie had her make an appointment on the spot. Violet also wrote out a list of things she’d observed for Violet to take to her doctor, so that he’d have a clearer picture of what was going on and what changes she’d seen.
Demonstrators tend to overcommit themselves and stay on the go most of the day. This high energy level is usually a boon, but when doctors or other professionals urge them to take it easy for a while, the demonstrator is likely to chafe at the restrictions. They’re likely to decide that whatever dire warnings they’ve received are simply the results of a pessimistic doctor or therapist, and take off without a second thought. You may find yourself growing exhausted as you try to keep a demonstrator at home and off her feet.
Hip surgery had been hard on Kathy. The pain and enforced inactivity had worn her down, and when the doctor said she could begin walking again—with a walker, and only short jaunts around the neighborhood—she was ready to go. For the first day or so, she’d wait until a scheduled time and make a slow loop with Alvin, her husband. However, the novelty of these ‘old lady walks’ soon wore off, and Kathy was ready to return to her regular, hours-long jaunts where she stopped in and said hello to all her friends. Of course, she couldn’t do that with a walker. She’d look like an invalid. When Alvin took a shower, she was out the door and gone. She couldn’t keep up her old pace and she had to occasionally grab trees for support, but she was doing great, and she didn’t need to be tied down by doctor’s orders anymore.
A neighbor called Alvin to let him know that she was out and about without her walker, and he drove over to get her. But these ‘escapes’ became a regular occurrence. She was simply unwilling to reduce her activity level, no matter what the risks. Alvin was afraid to sleep or shower or even use the restroom, because the moment he was distracted, Kathy was out the door. Alvin decided to take matters into his own hands. “Kathy, this is Rebecca,” he said as he introduced the home health aide he’d hired. “She’ll be helping out around the house and going with you on your walks until your hip is healed.” Rebecca was the extra set of hands, eyes, and legs Alvin needed to make sure that Kathy wouldn’t walk too far or leave the house without her walker. Kathy enjoyed having a new person to walk and talk with, so she was willing to slow down her pace just a little—but just so Rebecca wouldn’t get tired.
Demonstrators are chatty and outgoing and generally pretty good about maintaining relationships. However, out-of-town friends and family may occasionally feel out of the loop and worried, especially when a demonstrator takes a spontaneous trip or engages in new activities without telling anyone. Fortunately, there are many tools available to help you help your demonstrator stay in contact.
In retirement, Fyodor liked to be on the go, and his children understood that. They’d gotten him a smartphone so that they could keep up with him while he dashed from club to club and event to event. However, when they went 4 days without being able to contact him, they began to worry. They called the police for a wellness check, flew across country to check on his house, and began canvassing local hospitals and shelters. Fyodor was gone, and his cell phone was plugged in on his nightstand. His kids gathered, worried, and tried to talk to everyone he’d seen the day before he’d disappeared.
They heard the jangle of keys in the lock and jumped to their feet. Fyodor strolled in, tanned, smiling, and pleasantly surprised to find his family gathered in his living room. “Dad, where were you?” his oldest daughter shrieked. Fyodor looked perplexed. “Marty asked if I wanted to go down to his beach house with him for a few days. Why didn’t you call if you were worried?” “Because you didn’t take your cell phone or tell anyone where you were going!” she screamed. His son could see his dad melting under the conflict and stepped in to redirect the conversation to one about feelings.
“Dad, you have to drop us a line before you travel,” he said. “We were so scared that you were in a hospital somewhere. Please promise us that next time, you’ll let one of us know where you are!” Fyodor thought his family members were being paranoid—more like the parents than the children—but he agreed. To help with future communication, one of the kids set up a shared calendar online for the family, and Fyodor promised to mark any trips on the calendar so they’d know where he was.
Staying Positive Helps Demonstrators Deal with Personal Needs
Demonstrators often seem to forget that they have needs beyond getting out and seeing people, so it’s important for their caregivers to bring them back to earth occasionally. When you focus on emotions, try to stay positive, and help with boring or repetitive communication tasks like phone calls for appointments and updated calendars, you can help your demonstrator meet her personal needs and enjoy the relationships and experiences she gets her energy from.