When a Loved One Needs More Than Words
It is all too easy to interpret the confusion expressed by a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia as representative of all their faculties. It really is not the case. If the person simply started speaking a language you didn’t understand, you wouldn’t immediately assume something was wrong with them. You would attempt alternative modes of communication, especially nonverbal communication.
What exactly is occurring when a senior is struggling with Alzheimer’s or dementia? They start to have a tough time finding their words. Perhaps they repeat themselves. All too often, what you hear can best be described as ‘word salad’. You may begin to rely on gestures and body language, theirs and yours. It's important to keep up those lines of communication, because they allow you to maintain the relationship even when both of you know there's something in the way of normal communication. Without speaking a word, here is a list of suggestions for silent communication:
Make eye contact
Those who suffer with dementia are likely to have some degree of visual impairment, whether it be distance or otherwise. Often their field of vision decreases so that their peripheral vision is the first to go. Good old-fashioned eye contact, head-on, is a surefire way to connect with the elder, reassure them and establish tone (provided of course that such direct eye contact isn't culturally inappropriate). There is no doubt who's talking to whom.
Touch is the most direct contact there is. A handshake can be an introduction or a greeting. In this case, it could be both every time. The handshake is a safe bet, if only based on the fact that, at least for now, our elders come from a time where such etiquette was the bedrock of their social activity.
Smile and laugh
Smiles are contagious. A laugh can be viral. We know these things. Don’t let the elderly forget them. You may be buzzing about, getting work done, but think of every time you see them as an opportunity to share a smile. If one joke works every time, pay no mind to how tired you are of hearing it or saying it, because it will produce a laugh and you will have done a good deed. The idea here is to operate within their reality and not within yours.
The meal times provide some of the most packed examples of non-verbal communication and the difference it makes. Simply dropping the plate off in front of an elder can mean that elder will not eat that night because the elder may think he or she ate already. There is virtually no telling what they are seeing when they look at the plate. Instead, place it in front of them and point out each item on the plate in a clear, distinct manner. Lean over or crouch down so you are speaking at their level.
Interaction between elders and caregivers can be quite a culture clash. Many non-verbal traits just come along with a cultural package. Blunt, forceful delivery of language may just be the norm where one comes from. It does not come with ill intentions nor does it represent what is in the heart of a devoted caregiver. Caregivers simply must try to break down how they present themselves and give some thought, objectively, to how certain features might be received or interpreted.
If you find yourself having difficulty dealing with your loved ones as they journey through life with dementia, or you think caregivers might be having trouble, feel free to reach out to us and our staff will talk to you about how we can help.
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