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.

Bonding.

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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.

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Citation
Publisher Alzheimer's Reading Room
Author Bob DeMarco
November, 2016
Title: How the Smile is a Powerful Communication Tool in Dementia Care
https://www.alzheimersreadingroom.com/2016/11/alzheimers-care-the-smile-communication-dementia-care.html

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

11 comments :

  1. Replies
    1. Good Morning, Bob. I am glad to see the comment option starting to return. Hope it gets fixed. Another great and helpful article. Getting a smile from Lola made the day much much better. It comforted me to know that she could still feel good about something. Still thinking about you.
      Love and support,
      Ted in Colorado

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    2. Not so long ago I used to regularly visit a lady who had dementia and while I didn't know her, before she had Alzheimer's, getting her to smile would make my day. The power of a smile is immeasurable and should never be underestimated particularly when dealing with those who can't communicate verbally.

      Delete
  2. Thanks for the reminder, Bob. Mom is less interested in conversation these days, but who isn't interested in a loving touch and a smile? Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have been following since I tripped into your room a couple of months ago. (I had tears and mourning when your Mother went to our eternal home- ) My Father has Alzheimers and I have been trying to teach my Mom how to interact in a friendlier healthier way. She is still trying to fix him (prove him wrong) on items he forgets. I kept trying to print your messages, but I always get a massive print out because the heartfelt responses came with the message. As kind as they are, I still would like to be able to print your message for my Mother who does not have computer- but without the responses as well. Is there any way anyone knows I can do this ? - copy and paste didn't work. thank you..... for everything you did and are still doing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Two ways.

      You can click on the share button at the top of any article. Go down the long list to near the bottom and look for Printer Friendly.

      Here is another way.

      You can sign up for Instapaper.

      http://www.instapaper.com/

      Once you get an account, it is free, you can save the article to read later.

      Save it. Then go to Instapaper and click on text name to the title of the article.

      Bob

      Delete
    2. That worked ! Thank you so much. I never would have found the print button, as I did not see the down arrow for more choices. Again... thank you for sharing and helping us face this future with hope instead of fear.

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  4. Exactly what I teach," I started approaching her from right in front, held her hands, bent down and smiled."

    Exactly what I teach, "I learned that long streams of words don't work very well with someone who is deeply forgetful."
    1. Speak more slowly than normal.
    2. Use short, direct, simple sentences. I.e." let's go to the kitchen". 1 noun 1 verb only per sentence.
    3. Take a breath between sentences, always. The breath allows them time to catch up ( to process) to what you are saying.
    4. SMILE!

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  5. I am trying to learn how to smile. It doesn't come easy to me, but I am sure it will help. It is easy to forget there is someone living inside an AD sufferer, because they are so blank and concentrated on a few sentences. I am also learning to not argue with whatever is said.it is hard but I will get there slowly....

    ReplyDelete
  6. As soon as Paul sees me he smiles, I always arrive with a smile on my face for him to see. The other thing I do a lot is put my forehead against his, we both enjoy that sort of touching and I always, always tell him I love him, sometimes Paul says it first.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Your top chakra is in the forehead so it makes good sense to connect with that person's...or use Bob's 'fingertip' high 5 trick - it works miracles!

    ReplyDelete