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I have been known to say to my husband “Communication is a wonderful thing”. Usually the context of that statement is that we have not had good communication and it resulted in one or both of us missing something or being agitated with the other one for not communicating well to the other what was going on. So far neither one of us is dealing with cognitive impairment and we still struggle to communicate with each other. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to communicate with my spouse if one of us struggles with memory loss.
As people with dementia continue to lose their cognitive abilities it is the task of their family, friends and caregivers to develop new effective communication skills. Here are some things that will improve both your verbal and nonverbal communication skills.
- Smile. A genuine smile can go a long way. A warm smile indicates that you are happy to see them. They may not recognize you but they will want to know you if you seem a friendly and genuinely warm person.
- Be Positive – The energy we put off as human beings is contagious. If you are cranky it effects everyone around you. If you are negative you are not attractive but if you can put a positive spin on things and talk about what is good in your life and theirs both of you will benefit with an uplifted spirit and a better mood!
- Maintain eye contact. Eye Contact indicates attentiveness and respect. It is important that you do not stand over the person you are talking to but rather put yourself on their level. If they are standing, stand if they are sitting, you should sit.
- Use open body language. Touch a hand, pat a shoulder or show a gentle physical touch if the person is open to that. An open body posture invites interaction, closed posture sends the message that you are not interested in interacting. This picture of my daughters is an illustration for all of us on body language. Notice the one on the left with her arms crossed, legs crossed away from her sister, looking down all examples of closed posture. Her sister however, has open posture, her legs crossed towards her sister, her arm is across the back of the seat, she is leaning in and looking at her companion’s face while she is talking. We did tease them about this! You can guess one is a natural introvert and the other a natural extrovert. Our girls were not aware of what they looked like until my husband told them what a wonderful example of non-verbal communication they represented. Your non-verbal signals such as posture, facial expression, level of attention or focus, physical place – equal, above, or below, all send non-verbal messages. Being aware of how you come across is a skill that can help you in all areas of life not just with someone who has memory loss. Managing your own body language is essential, however, it is important to read their body language too. Notice if you are helping them feel comfortable or making them nervous. You can adapt your conversation and non-verbal signals to make them more comfortable and your interaction enjoyable.
- Introduce yourself. To start the conversation introduce yourself by name – it also helps to call them by name so they feel comfortable with you. If they mistake you for someone else, an old friend etc. just go with it and continue your conversation. Do not correct them, doing so confuses them and impairs your communication.
Communication is a wonderful thing…. Part 2 coming next week
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
― Leo Buscaglia