The Art of Listening: Tips on Nonverbal Communication

Having trouble communicating with a loved one is often the most frustrating part of caring for someone with memory loss or a chronic illness that limits their speech.
However, it is possible for families to learn how to communicate in ways other than words. You can learn how to care for your loved one’s spirit as you care for their physical health by utilizing communication techniques that support and comfort them, rather than frustrate and confuse.
If your loved one is living with Alzheimer’s disease or another condition that limits their use and understanding of language, you can still show them that you care by learning several nonverbal techniques for communicating. A few techniques include:
●Body Language
–Experts agree that those with cognitive imp airments such as dementia can be extremely intuitive and sensitive about the emotions of those around them. Your loved one is likely able to pick up on your frustrated mood and reflect it in their behavior. Pay attention to your body language when interact ing with your loved one, and consider what your body communicates about how
you’re feeling.
●Tone of Voice
– Even if your loved one has trouble speaking, their ability to understand what you say can last much longer. When speaking to your loved one, remember to speak with a calm tone of voice. Enunciate your words clearly and talk at a relaxed pace to help give your loved one time to process what you say.
●Eye Contact
– When speaking to your loved one, be sure to make eye contact. Face them straight on and try to get on their level, sitting down or kneeling if need be. Making eye contact helps them pay attention and concentrate while you’re talking.
● Visual Cues
–If your loved one has trouble understanding your instructions, try to communicate using visual cues to help them follow along. Make gestures, hand them objects or point to things. For example, if you’re trying to tell them tobrush their teeth, make a brushing motion and hand them their toothbrush.
● Physical Touch
– A gentle, caring touch can sometimes communicate more than words. Be generous when making contact with your loved one. However, be careful to avoid startling them from behind or making sudden movements that could seem invasive or threatening. Also be sure to allow your loved one personal space when they need it.
●Humor
–Laughter can lighten your loved one’s mood and help give them asense of inclusion and normalcy. Sometimes, laughing with your loved one can be a great gift for both of you. Allow humor to be a part of your caregiving communication (as long as it’s not at the expense of your loved one).
●Keep Talking
– Even after your loved one has lost the ability to speak, and you’re no longer sure if they can understand what you’re saying, keep talking to them anyway.
Speaking to them shows that you are paying attention and that you still care. Carrying on a conversation, albeit one
-sided, is a small way of maintaining your loved one’s dignity and sense of self
-worth throughout the later stages of their disease.