Learning the Art of Nonverbal Communication: Connecting with Your Loved One When They Can’t Speak


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For loved ones living with Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia or neurological conditions, the ability to communicate slowly disappears. In the case of Alzheimer’s, a loved one will repeat themselves, have trouble finding the right words and eventually won’t be able to speak or understand what others say. In the latest stages of such diseases, caregivers and family members have to learn the language of nonverbal communication in order to connect with their loved one.

“Difficulty communicating with a loved one is often the most frustrating part of caring for someone with memory loss or a chronic illness that limits speech,” says Sue Lesczynski, Director of Sales and Marketing at Crane’s View Lodge, an assisted living and memory care community in Clermont, FL. “Not being able to say what they want is equally as frustrating on the loved one. However, families can learn to communicate in ways other than words.

“People in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease are often very intuitive and sensitive to emotion, even when they can’t express it. 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, rather than frustrate and confuse.”

A Progressive Loss for Words

Although Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias may be the most common occurrences of loss of speech or communication difficulties, other disorders, chronic conditions and senior-related health problems can also make using nonverbal communication techniques necessary. A few examples include:

  • Stroke and subsequent aphasia
  • Untreated hearing loss
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Lou Gehrig’s disease (or ALS)
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Huntington’s disease

Most of these conditions are progressive in nature, so the ability to communicate verbally slowly diminishes over time. By the later stages, those living with these health problems experience the negative impact of their loss of speech on their overall well-being, hindering their interactions with others, social connections and the ability to access the proper care for their physical health.

Nonverbal Techniques for Communicating with Your Loved One

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. Experts from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) and the Institute on Aging offer several ways to use nonverbal communication to express your love, care and concern. A few techniques include:

  • Tone of Voice – Even if your loved one has trouble speaking, their ability to understand what you say may last much longer. When speaking to your loved one, remember to speak with a calm tone of voice. Annunciate your words clearly and talk at a slow pace to help give your loved one time to process what you say.
  • Body Language – Experts agree that those with cognitive impairments such as dementia can be extremely intuitive and sensitive to the emotions of those around them. Your loved one may easily be able to pick up on your frustrated mood and reflect it in their behavior. Pay attention to your body language when interacting with your loved one, considering what your posture and movements communicate about how you’re feeling.
  • 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 concentrate on what you are saying.
  • 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 to brush their teeth, make a brushing motion and hand them their toothbrush.
  • Physical Touch – A gentle, caring touch can sometimes communicate more than words ever can. 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 a sense 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). Share funny stories or watch old comedies with them, like Charlie Chaplin films.
  • 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.

Connecting Caregivers and Loved Ones

At Crane’s View Lodge, care staff are specially trained in geriatric care, experienced and willing to help seniors and their family caregivers understand the best ways of caring for their unique health needs. If you could use more help learning about your loved one’s disease or using nonverbal communication techniques, the experts at Crane’s View Lodge can help.

“Our community offers more than just quality Assisted Living and Memory Care,” says Lesczynski. “We host a full schedule of education and social events, as well as offer support for family caregivers and their loved ones. We’re eager to help seniors remain independent and healthy in the care of their loved ones as long as possible, so we support caregivers whenever we can. It’s our mission to enrich the lives of seniors in our community.”

Come Flourish at Crane’s View Lodge!

Located in the rolling hills of central Florida, Crane’s View Lodge offers Assisted Living and Memory Care services within the rustic warmth of a wilderness lodge in the picturesque town of Clermont. We provide an environment of socialization and volunteerism, as well as dependable health care services that promote independence, self-direction, social connections and daily purpose.

The Lodge lifestyle is a unique approach to senior living. While aging does come with challenges, our culture of connections creates an environment for residents to find daily purpose and joy. Here, residents don’t lose their independence. Instead, they receive countless avenues for which to connect with others through social activities or volunteer opportunities. We believe that everyone has something to contribute to their community, and we consider it our mission to help residents find what they can give – their skills, talents, company and enthusiasm.

Residents in our Assisted Living community and Memory Care program experience personalized, comprehensive healthcare services from dedicated, experienced professionals and staff. Each resident works with us to create their own Personal Care Plan, designed specifically for them to enjoy optimal independence while receiving the quality care they require.

We invite you to learn more about the fulfilling lifestyle and serves available at Crane’s View Lodge. Contact us today!