Nov 14, 2016

How the Smile is a Powerful Communication Tool in Dementia Care

You can convey a powerful message with a smile. And, you don't need to say a single word to get the message across.

The smile can have a cumulative positive effect if you give of it generously and often.

You can convey a powerful message with a smile | Alzheimer's Reading Room
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

I'll start with a simple question, how many times each day do you consciously, and actively, try and elicit a smile from the person you know that is living with dementia?

How many times, How often?

How many times each day do you hold their hand, or make contact and smile? Just smile, no words.

Are you actively aware of the importance of the smile in Alzheimer's communication?


My mother, Dotty, didn't laugh or smile for two years and it was killing me. Tearing my heart and stomach right out of my body.


This happened in the first few years while I was caring for my mom. You might want to get the thyroid checked.

During the next six and a half years, I had my mother smiling with greater and greater frequency. Guess what else happened? She became kinder and gentler. The smile is a powerful tool in life. A powerful nonverbal communication tool.

You can convey a powerful message with a smile. And, you don't need to say a single word to get the message across.


The way I used my smile to bond with Dotty evolved over time.

For example, in the first few years Dotty often woke up with a dull, unhappy look on her face. I started putting my arm around her in the morning, and I put my head on her head. Then I got around in front of her, bent down a bit to get on her level and smiled.

As the bond between us became stronger this first thing in the morning evolved. I started approaching her from right in front, held her hands, bent down and smiled, I waited as she smiled back.


During the last three years, Dotty was mostly happy when she woke up. Her voice got stronger and she started talking right out of the bed.

But here is the most important part - Dotty finally started smiling at me first. As I took her hands. I smiled back.

This explains in part why the last 18 months were better than the previous six plus years.

This might be hard to believe, I know. Those of you that have been here did notice in the videos that Dotty seemed happier. Thousands of you commented or emailed me and told me -- Dotty looks better, happier now.

Dotty looked better because she was happier. She smiled more and the muscles in her face changed. Not dull, happy.

Here is the look that Dotty had on her face during those two awful years (2004 - 2005).

Dotty | Alzheimer's Reading Room


Here is the look she had on her face on her 95th birthday (2011).

Smiling Dotty | Alzheimer's Reading Room

Over the years, I started sticking my hand out as I walked past Dotty. Often we exchanged what can best be described as a low five.

After a while I changed the technique. I would hold my hand out and when Dotty touched my hand, I would attached my hand to her hand by the pads on my finger tips. Those pads on your fingers are mighty sensitive. They are excellent communicators.



So we attached the pads on our fingers, and then I smiled. Dotty smiled right back. We might have done this ten times or more in a single day.

Bonding.

Subscribe to the Alzheimer's Reading Room
Email:

I noticed that even when Dotty was dying, days from death, that nurse Beth and the aide could get a smile from Dotty. They spoke in a kind way, got in a position so Dotty could see their face, smiled a big smile, and Dotty smiled right back.

Another good way to get a smile, is to sit at eye level with a person that is deeply forgetful. Hold one or both hands. Don't say a word, smile. Be patient, see what happens. Do it often and see if the entire dynamic of behavior changes over time.

Keep smiling, keep touching, use the pads on your finger tips, and keep your mouth shut.

Nonverbal communication can be very powerful. The smile can have a cumulative positive effect if you give of it generously and often.

I learned that long streams of words don't work very well with someone who is deeply forgetful. Perhaps they are easily confused and just can't assimilate the information because it won't store properly in their brain.


I learned in life that I am attracted to people that walk around with a smile on their face. They make me feel happy.

I probably didn't smile much during those two years that Dotty didn't smile or laugh. I think you could I say I was part of the problem.

I decided to change the way things were. I did. Dotty changed also. So I now conclude we did it together.


Togetherness. Another new word that I'll add to my Alzheimer's lexicon.

How to Get Answers To Your Questions About Alzheimer's and Dementia


Related Articles

Twilight Moments in Dementia Patients - Sundowning Syndrome

How Do You Get an Alzheimer's Patient To Take Their Medication

7 Ways To Deal With Difficult Behavior Caused By Alzheimer's and Dementia

How to Listen to an Alzheimer's Patient

Beatitudes for Friends of the Aged

The Role of Reassurance in Dementia Care

How to Convince an Alzheimer's Patient


Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR). Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.


Original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room