Many of the challenging behaviors we see in Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are related to lack of proper communications skills on the part of the caregiver. Now, don’t misunderstand me, I am not trying to make the caregiver the “bad guy.” Caregivers have much on their minds and are usually very tired and stressed, so it is certainly understandable.
Let’s take a look at what caregivers can do to improve their communication skills. Many of the suggestions you will see here are very simple. Not the kind of simple that is “That’s easy for you to say.” They are suggestions that you don’t have to think about but can just put into the practice …they make sense.
Direct Eye Contact: Direct eye contact is essential for good communication between any two individuals, and especially with a dementia patient. It helps the patient to focus on your face and listen to what you are saying. If you are not looking at the person you are talking to, a dementia patient may have no idea that you are speaking to (him). When he gets agitated, many times you can calm him down faster if you can get him to focus on your eyes. If a patient is irritated with another person, a third person can step in between the two and by speaking to the patient, get him to focus on something new. The eyes have an amazing power and can be a great tool.
Exception: If a patient is highly agitated and becoming violent, which sometimes happens…notice I said sometimes, it can be helpful NOT to have direct eye contact. We are told that if we have an unfortunate meeting with an aggressive animal, we should not look the animal in the eye because that will be interrupted as a threatening stance. That can also be true with our dementia patients.
Eye Level: To improve communications with the patient, try to always be at eye level with him. This is a more effective way to establish direct eye contact, which we know is so important. Kneeling down next to the chair he is sitting in or sitting in a chair at the dining table with him will be perceived as a less non-threatening position by the patient.
Speak Softly: You need to be conscious of the loudness and tone of your voice. A raised voice can also be considered as a threat. Speaking with a calm, even voice will make a big difference. Many elderly people have hearing issues, so it’s necessary to raise your voice. But speaking close to the person’s ear will help, rather than raising your voice.
Speak Slowly: You have to realize that someone with short term memory loss is going to take longer to process what a caregiver or friend have said to him. You may see a significant time lag before the patient responds. Consequently, it helps to speak slowly so the patient has time to register what you are saying.
Use Gestures: Gestures can help when trying to encourage a patient to complete a task or move from point A to point B. Use of hand, arm, head or eye gestures work well when a patient is no longer able to clearly understand words and directions.
Do Not Argue: I will say it again…..DO NOT ARGUE ! It’s that simple. Walk away. Your loved one is not capable of responding with reason or logic. Would you argue with a person who spoke a different language from the one you understand? Of course not. There are no benefits in arguing, no matter how frustrating the situation might be.
Use Distraction Techniques: Distraction techniques can be very helpful when trying to communicate with your loved one. See the blog called “Distraction Techniques” for a more thorough explanation.
There are days when it is not easy to communicate with your loved one. There is stress, paranoia, distrust, unrecognizable family members and a number of things that make it tough. Trying to implement these simple suggestions will hopefully improve the struggles you may be experiencing.
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