Mar 22, 2017

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.

Quote 'Every time you smile at Someone it is an action of Love, a gift to a person, a Beautiful thing" Mother Teresa

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?

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

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.


Subscribe to the Alzheimer's Reading Room

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

5 Tips, How to get an Alzheimer's Patient to Shower

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

What is the Difference Between Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Alzheimer's Reading Room Knowledge Base - Learn More by Using These Topics Pages

How do you talk and communicate with dementia patients effectively

How to live with someone who has Alzheimer's

How Do You Do it Alzheimer's Care

Can you die from Alzheimer's disease?

Can you communicate with an Alzheimer's Patient

Care of Dementia Patients

Publisher Alzheimer's Reading Room
Author Bob DeMarco
November, 2016
Title: How the Smile is a Powerful Communication Tool in Dementia Care

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

Original content Alzheimer's Reading Room

"The Alzheimer’s Reading Room is clearly one of the most informative and unbiased Alzheimer’s blogs. Bob DeMarco provides information on all things Alzheimer’s." 
"The blog covers the spectrum on Alzheimer’s issues, featuring everything from critical advice from someone who is on the front line caring for a loved one with the disease, to translating and reporting on the science and research that is leading the way to a cure". 
"All of us in the Alzheimer’s community are fortunate that Bob has taken on this important work. At Cure Alzheimer’s Fund, we encourage people to follow the Alzheimer's Reading Room; and, we rely on it ourselves to stay up to date and in touch."
Tim Armour

President of Cure Alzheimer’s Fund