Saturday, March 8, 2008

Alzheimer's: The Power of Our Words

I saw a demonstration of how much our words and thoughts affect others. The speaker, Travis Mathes, asked for a volunteer, and a self-confident business man, Daryl, came forward. Travis asked Daryl to hold his arms outstretched to his sides and resist his attempts to force his arms down. Then he asked Daryl to lower his arms, looked him in the eye, and said, “You are ugly, you are stupid, you are worthless…”

After about eight derogatory statements, Travis asked Daryl to hold his arms out and without using any more force than the first time, easily pushed Daryl’s arms down. Daryl’s take on it, “Wow, that was weird!”

This demonstration shows how our words can demoralize another person into a position of weakness. Travis immediately said eight positive things, and Daryl had the strength to resist the pressure on his arms.

After Daryl sat down, Travis asked a woman to come forward. Instead of saying anything to her, he simply asked her to look into his eyes for about a minute. He easily pushed her arms down. They made eye contact again, and this time his attempt failed. The difference? The first time, he thought the same things he said to Daryl. The second time, he thought positive, flattering thoughts.

We have often heard how our tone of voice and body language can affect people with Alzheimer’s. Even if their communication skills have degraded, our tone of voice conveys whether we are complimenting them or degrading them. If we speak to our loved ones with dementia in a positive tone with words that make them feel good about themselves, they will be stronger emotionally and physically. If we scold them or disparage their value as a human being, they become weaker and downtrodden.

Medical science cannot develop medicine as powerful as our words, attitude, and body language when it comes to preserving quality of life for ourselves and our loved ones with Alzheimer’s. The power is within each of us to encourage and positively influence our loved ones. It can be something as simple as saying, “You smell great today. You have a beautiful smile. I love you.”

Don’t get me wrong. I understand being a caregiver is challenging, and at certain times you may find yourself incapable of positive thoughts or words. At those times, find a mirror, look into your own eyes, and say, “I’m doing my best. I am a good caregiver.” Your words will make you strong.

Thank you, Travis, for the eye-opening demonstration.


To contact Travis Mathes for a speaking engagement, email mathest@marktwain.net
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