HOW TO TALK TO SOMEONE WITH DEMENTIA: CALM, POSITIVE BODY LANGUAGE
Use calm, positive body language to talk to someone with dementia
The damage in their brain has changed the way your older adult hears, processes, and responds to conversation.
That’s why it’s necessary to adapt the way we communicate to match their abilities.
Often, the nonverbal messages we send with our body language and facial expressions come through more clearly than the words we speak.
And sometimes, the nonverbal messages don’t match the words we use, which causes confusion.
But when we use body language and facial expressions that help seniors clearly and easily understand our meaning, it reduces confusion, agitation, and anger and also increases cooperation.
Using these nonverbal communication techniques to talk to someone with dementia makes caregiving easier and improves quality of life for both of you.
We explain what nonverbal communication is and share 6 helpful tips that you can use right away.
What are nonverbal dementia communication techniques?
There are many different types of nonverbal communication, including:
1. Facial expressions
Your face can express emotions without saying a word. And many facial expressions are the same across cultures, like happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust.
2. Body movements and posture
The way someone moves and carries themselves can say a lot about them, their mood, and their state of mind.
When we talk, we use gestures without even thinking about it – waving, pointing, and using our hands when we’re angry or excited.
4. Eye contact
For people who can see, vision is the dominant sense. That’s why eye contact is so important.
The way you look at someone can say a lot. Plus, eye contact helps you see the other person’s engagement level and reactions.
Touch is another way to “speak” without using words.
For example, these mean very different things: a limp handshake, a gentle shoulder tap, a warm hug, a reassuring pat on the back, a patronizing pat on the head, or a controlling grip on the arm.
Everyone needs some physical space, though how much may vary for each person and situation.
For example, standing too close can make someone uncomfortable. But staying at too far a distance could seem uncaring or uninterested.
The tone and volume of your voice adds a lot of meaning to words.
For example, imagine saying “fine” during a heated argument compared to saying it when you’re happy and content. The same word sounds completely different.
6 nonverbal dementia communication techniques
1. Be patient and calm
- Project a positive and calm attitude – it can help your older adult communicate more easily
- Avoid body language that shows frustration, anger, or impatience
- Try not to interrupt them
- Give them your full attention
When a situation is very frustrating, staying calm can be tough.
In those cases, it’s worthwhile to step away for a minute to do some deep breathing or calming exercises so you can come back with a calm attitude.
That helps you avoid a situation where your tension or frustration could subconsciously influence your older adult’s responses or behavior.
2. Keep voice, face, and body relaxed and positive
- Have a pleasant or happy look on your face – a tense facial expression could cause distress and make communication more difficult
- Keep your tone of voice positive and friendly
3. Be consistent
Avoid confusion by making sure your body language and facial expressions match the words you’re speaking.
4. Make eye contact and respect personal space
- Approach from the front so they can see you coming and have a chance to process who you are and the fact that you’re going to interact with them
- Don’t stand too close or stand over them – it can feel intimidating
- Keep your face at or below their eye level, this helps them feel more in control of the situation
- Make and maintain eye contact while having a conversation
5. Use gentle touch to reassure
Physical touch can give comfort and reassurance, but be sure to observe to make sure they’re comfortable with the touching.
This could include:
- Shaking hands
- Patting or holding their hand
- Patting or rubbing their shoulder or back
- Putting an arm around them
- Giving a hug
6. Observe their nonverbal reactions
Dementia may make it difficult for your older adult to express themselves verbally.
Watch for signs of frustration, anger, or fear and adjust your responses and actions to calm or soothe as needed.