Older adults with dementia may experience decreased communication skills. It can be helpful for a family member or caregiver to use certain techniques to help alleviate the communication hurdles. We recently wrote a blog about the verbal techniques that can be useful in communicating with your loved one. Nonverbal skills are particularly important and we provide some suggestions in this post.
Carol Kinsey Gorman, a contributor with Forbes magazine wrote, “Nonverbal cues have over four times the impact on the impression you make than anything you say.” She goes on to explain various techniques to help improve nonverbal communication. Below are some adaptions that can be used to communicate with a person with dementia.
- Body Language is an Integral Part of Communication
- Maintain Eye Contact. In order to let your loved one know you are listening, make eye contact while leaning in towards him or her.
- Be Aware of Facial Gestures. Ensure that your facial gestures match your loved one’s mood; for example, showing a joyous smile when he or she is happy or a concerned look when he or she is upset demonstrates that you are listening.
- Be Aware of Personal Space. Recognize and understand personal space by giving thought to where you stand. Standing to the side of your loved one is supportive, whereas standing directly in front may be seen as aggressive. Standing too close can be uncomfortable; keeping an arm’s length is a good rule of thumb. Positon yourself at the same level as your loved one by standing or sitting when he or she is doing so.
- Use the Power of Touch. Touch can serve as a form of communication. A simple touch to your loved one’s hand can be a cue to pick something up. Hand under hand techniques can be used as an assistive procedure. You may promote independence by gently showing your loved one how to do a task with their involvement and a degree of your control. A hug, a pat on the back, or just sitting side-by-side with shoulders touching may show support.
- Make Gestures. Use gestures and movements simultaneously to demonstrate what you are asking your loved one to do. For example, say the word, “sit,” in a gentle tone while either sitting yourself or gesturing to a seat. However, try to keep verbal communication to a minimum while using nonverbal communication.
- Notice Your Demeanor. People with dementia are always problem solving. Present yourself with confidence by guiding them with a strong posture and demeanor that conveys confidence and competence. If your loved one thinks you look unsure, he or she may pick up on this and be less likely to follow your lead.
It’s also important to observe your loved one’s body language, especially if he or she finds verbal communication challenging. A person with dementia may not be able to express a feeling with words; their body language, however, may provide important clues about their emotional state.