The Key to Unlocking Communication Difficulties in Dementia: Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal Communication
Nonverbal communication is invaluable in connecting with those with dementia.

Talking with a senior trying to cope with all the struggles of Alzheimer’s, especially in the middle and later stages, could very well be discouraging – both for you and for the senior loved one. Brain changes impede the ability to listen, process, and respond effectively to conversations, and it is up to us to put into action new techniques for communicating to more effectively connect with a loved one with dementia: specifically, nonverbal communication.

Fortunately, it’s much easier than you might think. We already communicate nonverbally in lots of ways:

  • Touch
  • Posture and body movement
  • Eye contact
  • Facial expressions
  • Gestures
  • Personal space

Attempt these nonverbal communication techniques to improve your interactions with a senior loved one:

  • Offer assurance through caring touch. If a loved one is comfortable with touch, hold and pat the senior’s hand, rub the person’s back, put an arm around his/her shoulders, and give affectionate hugs.
  • Look the senior in the eye. Eye contact conveys interest in the individual, even when no words are spoken aloud.
  • Honor personal boundaries. Steer clear of overwhelming the person by allowing adequate personal space, and making sure you’re at the same level as the individual, never towering over him or her. Your face should always be at eye level with the older adult.
  • Maintain a peaceful, patient, and confident attitude. Quash any anger, annoyance or impatience, and concentrate on sustaining a relaxed and pleasant expression on your face when together with a senior loved one. If this is daunting because of challenging behaviors, walk away briefly and perform deep breathing or other relaxation techniques. For example:
    • Square breathing: Use a finger to draw the shape of a square in front of you. When tracing the very first side, breathe in deeply for a count of three; for the next side, hold your breath for one second; for the third side, breathe out for a count of three; and for the fourth side, hold your breath for one second. Do it again as necessary.
    • Relaxing phrase repetition: A couple suggestions to help you get started: This will pass, and everything is ok. I am able to handle this. I am safe and well.
    • Distracted thinking: Practice concentrated refocusing. Try reciting the alphabet backwards, listing as many state capitals as you possibly can, or singing the lyrics to a favorite song.

Find more creative nonverbal communication techniques to improve dementia care by getting in touch with Midnight Sun Home Care’s Alaska memory care professionals. Our caretakers are specially trained in the most up-to-date Alzheimer’s care techniques, and we are always available to help a senior loved one with dementia to remain safe and calm, and to enjoy life to his or her fullest possible potential. Reach out to us at (907) 677-7890 any time for assistance.


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