As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, one common challenge is the decline of communication skills. Ultimately, the individuals living with dementia will have more difficulty expressing their thoughts and emotions. Loved ones may become increasingly confused, disoriented and upset at their inability to communicate, while caregivers become frustrated that they aren’t able to understand what their loved ones may need. Caregivers may also have trouble getting their loved ones to cooperate willingly when it’s time to perform certain tasks, like sitting down for dinner or getting ready for bedtime.
Actions Speak Louder than Words: Nonverbal Communication in Alzheimer’s Disease
It’s important to remember that your loved one may be just as frustrated as you are at their inability to communicate effectively. Normal communication methods like simply voicing a request or asking seemingly uncomplicated questions may no longer be successful when you’re talking to an individual living with dementia.
However, various studies do show that nonverbal communication can be extremely valuable when it comes to caring for an individual with dementia, especially in the later stages of the disease. Nonverbal communication is communication without the use of spoken language and includes facial expressions, gestures, body language and even touch.
Using fewer words and relying on nonverbal communication methods can help ease frustration, allowing you to continue to make connections with your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. How can you implement nonverbal communication in dementia care? Here are a few ways:
Make eye contact. When you approach loved ones, do so from the front so you do not startle them. Look into their eyes and quietly identify yourself, not only saying your name but also who you are to the person (daughter, sister, best friend, etc.). Look them right in the eye as you speak so they can better make the connection of who you are and what you’re requesting of them. Bending or sitting at eye level may also help your loved one to feel more comfortable as you initiate your efforts
Smile and be patient. You may feel frustrated when loved ones don’t cooperate, but remember to smile. Alzheimer’s disease causes confusion, and individuals are often slower to understand what’s going on or what you’re saying. Take a deep breath, smile and slow down to their speed.
Add light, comforting touch. When loved ones are acting negatively, sometimes all it takes is a simple touch to help diffuse the situation. Reach out your hand slowly, laying it gently on their arm or shoulder, just to show that you’re there for them, you understand and you’ll get through this together. Touch automatically creates what might be a much-needed connection, too.
Encourage gestures. If loved ones cannot express themselves through words, urge them to point or make gestures to help you understand their needs. Or, if it’s time for bed, for example, point to the bed and slowly lead them to it, and announce it is bedtime.
Think about body language. Try not to appear “closed off” when communicating with individuals with dementia. In other words, don’t cross your arms over your body or turn away when talking to your loved ones.
Remember, individuals in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease often understand nonverbal communication better than actual words. Take the time to discern what method works best for you and your loved one, so you can help provide the highest quality of life possible.
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