One of the most difficult challenges we face as caregivers is how to communicate effectively with a person living with dementia.
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room
While it is not well known about 80 percent of all human communication is nonverbal.
I often wonder if caregivers give this considerable thought?
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You can change the behavior and demeanor of an Alzheimer's patients by using effective nonverbal communication. One technique that really works well is using the fingertips.
When I travel around the country visiting adult day services communities I usually do a few things as soon as I start walking around the activities room. First, I stop and look around. I look at the patients. I am pleased to say that adult day services has come a long way in the last ten years. Do the participants look happy? Do they have that special look - more there? I can say they do.
Second, I walk the room and stop from time to time. When I stop I smile, and stick out my hand. So far it has never failed. The person living with Alzheimer's gives me their hand. Most often I attached my fingertips to their fingertips and say no more than 3 little words. For example, how are you? I smile they smile back at me and we have a nice little human contact. I bring them into what I call the NOW. The present.
I will admit sometimes I have to hold their entire hand. This happens when they seem particularly fragile to me; or, if they remind me of my mom. I just can't help myself. I believe this make the person feel good; and, one thing I know for certain it makes me feel good.
If your loved one seems mean, hard to handle, or you just can't seem to get through to them it is time to start using your fingertips all day long. Over and over. Get attached. No excuses.
Smile and attached those fingertips. I believe after a while you are going to start feeling very good about yourself. You will find Alzheimer's patients can be kind, and nice, and they feel good. This happens once you start to connect.
Warning. Do not start using your words. No blah blah blah. Remember, this is a nonverbal exercise in communication. The max three words, and in a nice, kind, low voice. Most of the time when I did this with my mom I limited it to the smile and touch. However, I also learned how to get her to do anything I wanted her to do using this technique.
For example, let say it was time for a "pit stop" - time to go to bathroom. I would smile, attach and say - Follow me. My mom would start moving and ask - where are we going. I might say - to have fun. Or, time to eat (my mom was always hungry). So maybe it was to the bathroom, or to take a shower, go out, or eat. I learned to become a guide. And my mom learned how to follow without resistance.
Of course, before I learned how to do this I would also try to explain what we were going to do. And more often or not Dotty would say, NO, or I just went to the bathroom, or I already took my shower, you know what I mean.
Go ahead try to explain or convince. Then go bang your head against the wall. Banging your head against the wall really works. Sooner or later you learn what you are doing isn't working and the light ball goes on in your head. It is never going to work, so I have to find a better way of eliciting cooperation from my moved one.
Previously, I wrote an article about touching and how to use your forehead. Even if you read it before, go read it again.
I also wrote an article about the importance of the hug. Go read it.
Do you want to improve your day. Feel better about yourself and your loved one?
One way to get there is through effective nonverbal communication. This is what works best with a person living with dementia. It is an essential component of effective dementia care. Also a good technique for professionals working in memory care.
I am feeling happy as I write this article. Why? Because I know at least one person if going to read through this article, and the linked articles. They are going to try what I am suggesting. In a few short weeks they are going to make it to the promised land
Once there - their life is going to change for the better. Let's put it this way. It took me years to figure out what you can learn from this article, and instead of years, you can make it happen right now.
I think this article and the links should be discussed in support groups and shared on Facebook. I leave that part up to you if you would like to help others.
How to Use Ice Cream as a Memory Care Tool
Test Your Memory for Dementia and Alzheimer's (5 Best Tests)
What's the Difference Between Alzheimer's and Dementia
How to Get Answers To Your Questions About Alzheimer's and Dementia
Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room (ARR).
The Alzheimer's Reading Room contains more than 5,000 articles and has been published daily since July, 2009.
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