Communication is the sharing of thoughts, information, and feelings. Without shared thoughts, information or feelings there is NO communication. When there is no communication, there is no relationship.
If you are a professional caregiver or a valued family member providing care support to someone with Alzheimer’s or another Dementia, you know all too well how the ‘communication flow’ can be disrupted or certainly altered as the disease journey progresses.
Although each person with Dementia is unique, we do know that a common trait of noted decline in most with Dementia is in relation to verbal communication. What begins as halted or hesitant speech patterns often will transition into difficulty with word-finding. Wherein, they will forget mid-sentence the word for formerly familiar things. Later in the journey, words may turn into mumbled and/or jumbled sounds. At end of life, it’s not uncommon for verbal communication to cease altogether.
However, just because the verbal communication may become fractured, please keep in mind there are still ample ways to communicate effectively with someone with Dementia. There may come a time when your person may not understand exactly WHAT you are saying, but they can certainly ‘feel’ HOW you are saying it.
When your tone of voice and/or your body language is the ‘communication’ that makes them ‘feel’ threatened, afraid or anxious, that’s when things can truly go sideways during a caregiving encounter.
As the caregiver, be prepared to shift your mindset of what ‘Dementia communication’ is. As your person loses verbal aptitude you’ll need to pay closer attention to reading their non-verbal cues.
- Are they teary-eyed or grimacing? Clenching their jaw or fists? – this may be a sign they are experiencing pain or discomfort
- Are they tugging at their clothes or searching for the exit? – this may be a sign they need to use the restroom
Conversely, as the caregiver, you’re going to need to increase your awareness of what non-verbal cues YOU are giving off to those in your care. Be prepared for resistance from those in your care if you frequently:
- Speak in a loud /harsh tone. Or, in a manner that sounds like ‘scolding’
- If you’re rushing them thru a caregiving task and moving too quickly
- If you’re talking on the phone while simultaneously trying to complete a caregiving duty with your person
The most successful formula for providing nurturing Dementia care involves having a relationship with those in your care
For family caregivers, sometimes this can be a challenge. Ideally, you are able to put past hurts and misunderstandings behind you as you now shift into caregiving-mode. Because there is no doubt, that if you are emitting an ‘anger vibe’ while delivering care, the person with Dementia will feel that and most often not respond well.
For professional caregivers responsible for providing day-to-day care, it’s crucial they capture as much information about each resident they are serving. The more you know about the background, likes, dislikes and details of a person’s history, the easier it is to forge that caregiving relationship necessary for success.
There is an old saying that goes, ‘Smile, it increases your face value!’ For those caring for someone with Dementia, it certainly is advisable to begin each encounter with a smile. Additionally, approach your person from the front, make eye contact, and speak in simple sentences. Always being mindful that your tone, temperament, and body language is being closely evaluated by those in your care.
Smiles. Hugs. Handshakes. Are Free!
Be generous and give them out often!
Those in your care will benefit greatly.