Caregiver handing flowers to woman

Honoring Who They Were by Honoring Who They Still Are: The Art of Non-Verbal Communication (Part 1 of 4)

If your loved one has dementia – particularly as the disease progresses – it can sometimes be difficult to remember them “as they were.” There may be very little of the person you remember, especially if your normally sweet and calm father starts becoming aggressive or angry, or your mother starts exhibiting more and more childlike behaviors. This disconnect between the person they were and the person they are can make it difficult for caregivers and family members to know how to interact, says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA.

“It’s essential to remember that your loved one is an adult, with a rich history and memories, and deserves to be treated with respect and dignity,” she says. It’s easy to treat our loved ones as if they were a child as they progress through the disease, she says, because it’s how our brain makes sense of the situation and how they’re acting. But by honoring your loved one by treating them as the person they were, you will provide him or her with a lot of reassurance and comfort.

Best practices in dementia care offer five ways to honor our loved ones and show them respect and dignity:

  • Include them in conversations
  • Honor their identity and their history
  • Give them as much privacy as possible
  • Treat them as adults
  • Allow them to make choices

In this four-part series, we will walk you through ways to help honor your loved one throughout all stages of the dementia journey. No matter how advanced the disease may be, there are plenty of opportunities for you to connect with your loved one, show you care and create moments that can be cherished.

Honor Them Through Non-Verbal Communication

Every interaction we have is a form of communication. In fact, it’s literally impossible not to communicate in some way. Even if we aren’t speaking, we’re still transmitting and receiving messages to others around us.

There are two distinct types of communication: verbal and nonverbal. Verbal communication is anything that is spoken or written, as well as how things are spoken or written. Tone, volume, speed of speech, pitch of voice and pauses can add significant meaning to words, even if we don’t necessarily mean to do so.

Non-verbal communication includes body language, but also other surprising things like the way a room is decorated, what you’re wearing or the ways you use your five senses. Body language is a subtle, complex thing that many of us don’t think about, but that can have even more meaning than what we’re saying. Some factors that go into body language:

  • The position of our bodies (such as folded arms, standing or sitting) as well as how we position ourselves to others (standing close, keeping an item between yourself and the other person, etc.) Our facial expressions: smiles, neutral faces, scowls, raised eyebrows and the like.
  • Eye contact: If we look in someone’s eyes, or if we focus over someone’s shoulder, looking away as we speak or staring.
  • Touch: How we touch others (on the arm, holding hands, on the back) or ourselves (tucking hair behind the ear, pulling an ear, cracking knuckles).
  • Our physical reactions: If we’re breathing quickly, or if we’re sweating, if we look comfortable or

Non-Verbal Communication and Your Loved One with Dementia
Non-verbal communication becomes more and more important throughout the dementia journey. As your loved one loses the ability to communicate verbally, you will need to interpret more and more – and provide opportunities for – what they are saying with their body, their tone and their actions. It’s common for people with dementia to become frustrated or angry when they aren’t able to express themselves verbally, so providing avenues for them to get their point across is not just helpful – it gives them back a sense of dignity and autonomy. Here are some examples of how you can use non-verbal communication to help your loved one communicate:

  • Provide options. If you’re offering them a snack, show them two options and let them choose from them.
  • Reinforce a message. If you ask your loved one if they want to watch the television, pick up the remote or point to the television to help direct their attention.
  • Showing your feelings. Nod “yes” when you agree with them. Shake your head “no” when something is negative.
  • Say something in a meaningful way. Remember, actions speak louder than words. Instead of just saying “I love you,” give your loved one a big hug or hold their hand. These simple actions can convey a message even more strongly than words can.

Body Language Tips for Caregivers

  • Keep body posture and orientation positive. No matter how pleasant your words or voice, sitting away from them or crossing your arms over your chest signal negativity. This can rub off on your loved one with dementia who can react negatively as well.
  • Use their facial expressions to read emotions. Your loved one may not be able to explain what they’re feeling, but their body language, especially their facial expressions, can tell you how they’re feeling. For example, if you see fear on their face, reassure them with comfort and love.
  • Keep eye contact as an equal. When speaking to your loved one, get to their eye level and look them in the eyes. Being on their level shows them that you respect and value them as an equal.
  • Speak calmly and smoothly. Try not to let your voice show frustration or negativity. Your tone will speak volumes – more so than the words you use. Your loved one will react to your tone, pitch and speed of speech and mirror what you do.

Communicating with your loved one with memory loss requires understanding, patience and a lot of attention to detail. By understanding the importance of non-verbal communication and using it to help reassure your loved one, you will better be able to care for your loved one and provide them with the respect and honor they deserve.

For more information about our community, our culture and our mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.