Best Practices in Caregiving
STRATEGIES FOR COMMUNICATING WITH SOMEONE WITH ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE – PART 2
7. Non-Verbal Communication
Tone of voice, facial expressions, touch and gestures are effective and important parts of communicating with your loved one.
Tone of Voice
Listen to your own tone of voice; it speaks volumes. The person with memory loss maintains the ability to understand tone of voice, even after the ability to understand words has been lost. Listen to your loved ones' tone of voice; it will reveal their message more so than their words.
Know that your loved one is able to read your facial expressions even though you may not even be aware of them. When we speak to someone we usually look them in the eye to assess their feelings or their intentions. The entire face-eyes, forehead, nose, eyebrows and cheeks-communicate a vast range of emotions to others. We are able to convey happiness, fear, anger, disgust, surprise, remorse and sadness. Be aware when speaking with your loved one as well as with others, that your facial expressions speak a thousand words.
It is important to offer your loved one reassurance. Hugs work wonders. Touching someone's arm or shoulder, holding their hand, patting their back; all these forms of touch provide comfort and pleasure. Be aware of moving someone in their wheelchair without letting them know first, with a gentle touch and reminder," I need to move you to the table now." Pulling someone in their chair in an abrupt manner is very insensitive. Provide gentle touch and you will bring a smile to your loved one's heart.
We use gestures daily to communicate our needs-hand gestures to describe how large something is, pointing in the correct direction to guide someone, waving to say "hello." Using simple gestures is helpful as a complementary addition to your words and your tone of voice. Remember to avoid gestures that could be misinterpreted as being threatening to your loved one.
8. Speak Slowly
It takes longer for a person with memory loss to process what we have said. By speaking calmly and slowly, you have a much greater chance of being understood.
9. Be Aware of Hearing or Vision Problems
Older people suffer with these losses and it is important to remember they do not hear or see as well as we do. Have you ever smeared suntan oil on your sunglasses while at the beach? Imagine going through life daily with cloudy lenses, which is literally how some elders see.
10. Smile and the World Smiles with You
If you look for the good and the positive in people and in life, you will find more opportunities to smile. Laughter is the best medicine, so use your sense of humor. Be sensitive not to laugh at your loved one, but laugh together at the situation.
11. Put Logic and Reason "On the Shelf"
Confrontation with your loved one will only increase their level of agitation and anxiety. "You know you're not supposed to wear that bra outside of your dress." Instead try: "Let me help you with this."
12. Remember To Forget The Phrase "Don't You Remember?"
Pretend your computerized brain has a glitch when it wants to say that phrase and erase it from your memory bank! "This is your daughter, Susan." vs "Don't you remember your daughter, Susan?" This approach helps the person “save face”.
13. Always Validate Their Feelings
Even if the content of what your loved one is saying is "not real," the feelings are always real. An example of validating is "I know how upset you must feel to think I'd steal your purse."
14. Truthfulness May Not Always Be The Kindest Response.
As the person loses memories he/she can no longer enter into your reality. Confronting that person with a reality such as the death of a loved one may actually be cruel. Forcing a person with a severe memory problem to hear a "truth" will cause emotional pain. It is better to validate the feelings the person is expressing rather than make face a reality that is totally gone from memory.