You want to chat with a person who has dementia, but you’re not sure it’s possible; you’re not alone.
Some days when I visited, I tried everything to get Mom’s attention and communicate with her. Of course, I tried talking. When that didn’t interest her, I gazed into her eyes or waved my hands to pique her curiosity or touched her arm to let her know I was there.
I know how challenging it can be to have meaningful communication when someone is deeply forgetful and I am most grateful for this excellent article by Karen Love. Karen is a founder of CCAL, a non-profit national consumer advocacy and education organization devoted to advancing person-centered living.
Here are excerpts from Karen’s article:
Did you know that spoken words only account for 7 percent of communication? The remaining 93 percent of communication is conveyed through body language, vocal tone and pitch. Communication style becomes especially important when someone in your life is living with dementia.
Here are a few tips for better chats:
Stand at eye level in front of them so they benefit from seeing your body language and facial expressions. Slow your speech down because their brains process information more slowly.
Don’t interrupt: take time to listen to the person’s response. If they are especially stuck on a word, kindly supply the word and see how they react. If they don’t appear to want the help, let them manage on their own.
Ask one question at a time and ask questions that require simple yes or no answers. For instance, “Do you want scrambled or fried eggs this morning?” instead of “How would you like your eggs this morning?”
Where possible, supplement your communication with visual cues. Smile often, not only because it conveys warmth and caring, but also because smiling can make you feel better too.
Touch is a powerful communicator. When used positively, touch can convey caring and warm feelings. It only takes a moment to offer a pat on the shoulder or a gentle hand squeeze.lions
Phone calls are especially challenging for someone who has dementia because the only communication cues they receive are words (7 percent) and vocal tone and pitch (38 percent). Limit phone conversations to a minute or so and say something positive like, “I was thinking of you and just wanted to call and say hello.” Consider using Skype or another one of the visual software methods on a computer, tablet or iPad to communicate.
Spend time together in companionable silence. It can be exhausting for someone living with dementia to continually process communication. Sit across from the person or at 90 degrees so they can easily see you.
Lastly, be aware of how you are communicating and whether it is having desirable results such as smiles, nodding, and looking contented, happy, or relaxed. If not, review your style to see if you should adjust an aspect of your technique.
For more from Karen Love, click here: CCAL, a non-profit national consumer advocacy and education organization devoted to advancing person-centered living.
Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey (Central Recovery Press Nov 2013). Deborah focuses on finding the gifts, blessings and connections in the care partner’s journey through Alzheimer’s. Originally, Deborah self-published and used the book as a catalyst to raise more than $80,000 for Alzheimer’s programs and research. She will continue to donate a portion of her proceeds to Alzheimer’s.
To buy Love in the Land of Dementia, visit your local bookseller or favorite on-line retailer.
Deborah and her partner Ron Zoglin have performed her writings for audiences in the United States, New Zealand, Nova Scotia, Puerto Rico, England, Ireland, Chile, Costa Rica, Italy, Turkey and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Reprinted with the permission of Deborah Shouse, family caregiver, alzheimer’s advocate, writer and speaker; firstname.lastname@example.org