Some days when I visited, I tried everything to get Mom’s attention and communicate with her. Of course, I tried talking. When that didn’t interest her, I gazed into her eyes or waved my hands to pique her curiosity or touched her arm to let her know I was there. I know how challenging it can be to have meaningful communication when someone is deeply forgetful and I am most grateful for this excellent article by Karen Love. Karen is a founder of CCAL, a non-profit national consumer advocacy and education organization.
Here are excerpts from Karen’s article:
Did you know that spoken words only account for 7% of communication? The remaining 93% of communication is conveyed through body language, vocal tone and pitch. Communication style becomes especially important when someone in your life is living with dementia.
Here are a few tips for better communications:
Stand at eye level in front of them so they benefit from seeing your body language and facial expressions. Slow your speech down because their brains process information more slowly.
Don’t interrupt: take time to listen to the person’s response. If they are especially stuck on a word, kindly supply the word and see how they react. If they don’t appear to want the help, let them manage on their own.
Ask one question at a time and ask questions that require simple yes or no answers. For instance, “Do you want scrambled or fried eggs this morning?” instead of “How would you like your eggs this morning?”
Where possible, supplement your communication with visual cues. Smile often, not only because it conveys warmth and caring, but also because smiling can make you feel better too.
Touch is a powerful communicator. When used positively, touch can convey caring and warm feelings. It only takes a moment to offer a pat on the shoulder or a gentle hand squeeze.
Phone calls are especially challenging for someone who has dementia because the only communication cues they receive are words (7%) and vocal tone and pitch (38%). Limit phone conversations to a minute or so and say something positive like, “I was thinking of you and just wanted to call and say hello.” Consider using Skype or another one of the visual software methods on a computer, tablet or iPad to communicate.
Spend time together in companionable silence. It can be exhausting for someone living with dementia to continually process communication. Sit across from the person or at 90 degrees so they can easily see you.
Lastly, be aware of how you are communicating and whether it is having desirable results such as smiles, nodding, and looking contented, happy, or relaxed. If not, review your style to see if you should adjust an aspect of your technique.
To learn more about Karen and her organization, please visit: http://www.ccal.org
Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.
On my mother’s last Halloween, her memory care unit held a party. Pam, the nurse, brought a basket brimming with hats, shawls, and scarves. Pam set a floppy white hat on Mom’s silvery curls and draped a lacy purple shawl over her shoulders. In her new adornments, Mom looked both puzzled and happy.
But during the “treat” portion of the Halloween celebration, which featured M&M’s and chocolate chip cookies, Mom’s smile was unambiguous. All her life, Mom had adored sweets and her Alzheimer’s had not dimmed her enjoyment.
Then small children paraded through the facility, dressed as princesses, witches, super heroes, and ghosts. Volunteers handed the residents wrapped tootsie rolls.
“For the children,” they said.
Mom smiled at the adorable kitty cats and pirates who chanted “Trick or treat,” in wispy voices, but she did not relinquish her hold on the sweets; she did not share her candy.
“Mom, would you like to give the children some of your candy?” I asked as my mother gripped her treasure.
“No,” she said.
No. The word floated through my mind and I gazed at Mom, my mouth open, my mind euphoric. Perhaps I should have been chagrined at her selfishness but instead I was thrilled that she had actually responded to my question. It was the closest we’d come to conversation in weeks. I laughed with delight. Mom laughed.
For that moment, we were two women, simply laughing. For me, it was a most wondrous and unexpected treat.
Q 4 U:
Please share one of your unexpected treats.
It wasn’t just an ordinary visit. I walked into the long-term care facility and made my way to the memory care unit. I paused in front of the locked door, pulled a crumpled scrap of paper out of my pocket and tapped the entry code into the keypad. As I walked to my mother’s room, her new home, I felt sad, confused and guilty. How was I going to connect with my mom in this strange new environment?
Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, has 16 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care and understands the emotions and confusions family or friends might feel when visiting in a long-term care facility. Here are her tips for having a meaningful connection.
Seven Tips for Visiting a Loved One in a Long-Term Care Facility
Many families find it stressful to visit their loved ones in long-term care, especially if dementia has changed their usual ways of relating. Here are seven ways to make the most of your visits:
- Help the room feel like home by bringing photos and bedspreads, creating an environment that feels more comfortable and familiar to your relative and more pleasant for you to visit. Labeling the photos with names (such as “Oldest son, Sam”) provides reminders in your absence and clues for the staff that are with your loved one daily.
Turn off the television or radio and close the door during your time together. When the room is quiet and free of distractions, it’s easier for someone with dementia (and for those with hearing loss) to focus on their visitors.
Try to converse at the same height, sitting on beds or chairs rather than standing while your loved one is sitting. Bring in small folding chairs and stash them in a corner if you tend to have lots of visitors. Remember, though, that some people react better to hosting just a couple of guests at a time rather than a possibly loud and confusing crowd.
Use memory aides such as photos and magazines of beloved hobbies as conversation starters. Creating a memory book together can be a great way to spend some time, especially if the focus is on enjoying the process and the conversation that comes from it rather than on completing the memory book in a set amount of time.
Go with the flow of the conversation, allowing your loved one to talk about what’s on their mind, rather than asking questions they used to be able to answer but no longer can, which is upsetting for everyone. For instance, replace, “Don’t you remember X?” with “Your flower garden was so lovely,” adding details that reflect your appreciation for their abilities and see what response this generates.
Find pleasurable activities that don’t involve talking, if that’s beyond your loved ones’ capabilities at this point. Listen to music, hold a private stretching class, go outside and enjoy the sun and the birds. Just be, pleasantly, without expectations.
Talk to staff members and to other visiting families and become part of the long-term care community. Media reports to the contrary, most long-term care homes are filled with people who are trying to do the best they can for your loved one under challenging circumstances. They can become your allies, supporters, and teammates in care.
Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD is an accomplished speaker and elder-care coach with over 16 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care. Read her book, The Savvy Resident’s Guide, for the inside scoop on how nursing homes work and visit her award-winning website, MyBetterNursingHome.com, for more tips on how to thrive in long-term care.