Our lives as social beings hinge greatly on good communication skills. As infants we learn to fuss in a certain manner to communicate a need or to smile and laugh in delight.
Children learn to communicate linguistically; teens develop more complex communication involving an ever-growing scope of vocabulary, body language and attitude. Generally speaking, our communication skills continue to grow. However, for people with dementia overtime the ability to communicate their needs overtime becomes impaired. Family members, friends and caregivers often develop strategies specific to the individual to communicate and connect to their special someone with dementia.
The first thing to be aware of is ‘how you communicate’
The Better Health Channel offers this:
The three factors that make up the messages we communicate are:
body language (the message we give out with our facial expressions, posture and gestures), which accounts for 55 per cent of communication
the tone and pitch of our voice, which accounts for 38 per cent of communication
the words we use, which account for seven per cent of communication.
In other words, it isn’t so much what you say, as how you say it.
Maintain a positive attitude
Keeping your thoughts positive guides your body language and the pitch and tone of your voice. This creates a calming, trusting structure for communication and minimises frustration and agitation. It may also help you to keep perspective on the situation. While you may want to help the person with dementia clarify a thought by suggesting a specific word that has escaped him/her, there is no need to correct them or their thoughts. It’s best to let them try to express themselves and listen intently. If you notice they are becoming agitated by not being able to remember or express what they want to, you may gradual try to help out or turn their attention to something that you know has a positive association for them. Listen with your ears, eyes and heart open to the message they want to deliver.
Prepare for successful communication
Eliminate competing stimuli so that all parties involved can focus on expressing and receiving information. Both visual and auditory stimuli distract people under the best circumstances. If it’s possible, communicate in a quiet space with simple decor. You may choose to turn the television or radio off if you are trying to have a conversation with them.
Dementia Today makes this recommendation: Identify yourself. Approach the person from the front and say who you are. Keep good eye contact; if the person is seated or reclined, go down to that level.
Collect your own thoughts before hand. Know what you want to say and be prepared to state it simply and clearly. Allow plenty of time for your visit so that you freely convey patience.
Use a variety of communication techniques
Include gestures and facial expressions. Touching someone while you talk with him/her tells them you care and you’re present with them.
Check your posture. Do you lean forward, indicating that you’re listening attentively? Are your arms open or at your sides, as opposed to crossed in front of yourself?
To help him/her express, you may try using written notes or keep several different pictures available that identify people, places or activities he may want to communicate about. Any party to the discussion may point to pictures to increase awareness of the subject. This of-course will depend on how advanced the person with dementia is.
For topics that come up regularly, try to use the same wording and mannerisms each time. It may also be helpful to use cues for scheduled events. For example, a particular song may indicate it’s time to eat. Another song may announce that it’s time to gather for an activity. Still another song leads to bed.
Address the person by name and tell him/her specifically who you are. Refrain from asking difficult questions and from using too many pronouns. Avoid subtle gestures that indicate frustration, exasperation or boredom such as rolling your eyes, shrugging your shoulders or slumping.
Remember that you are talking to a person.
She’s a mother, grandmother, sister. He’s a dad, grandfather, friend. Maybe she was a teacher or dancer. Maybe he was a coach. Each person is a treasure. Through effective communication we demonstrate our appreciation for individual value.
Video: Communication Strategies By Pines of Sarasota Education & Training Institute