Researchers are not only trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, they want to improve quality of life and improve the standard of care for people with dementia. The results of an ongoing study released at the 2008 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease (ICAD) involves communication. Researchers used “Elderspeak” to define a communication method similar to a parent using baby-talk phrases such as, “Sweetie pie, it’s time for us to get up now” or “That’s a no-no!” This study validates what we caregivers knew all along: Our loved ones with dementia are adults and need to be treated with respect.
During the study, resistance to care was measured in relationship to dementia care unit staff’s communication with the residents. The communication styles were broken down into normal talk, elderspeak, and silence. The study shows that it is significantly more effective to talk to residents in normal conversation than elderspeak. Silence was neutral.
Jim developed aphasia early in his disease and we learned to cope with his diminishing grasp of spoken and written communication. In effect, my unscientific study spanned ten years. I never used baby talk, but it was perfectly acceptable for me to call Jim by endearments because I always had. In fact, one time when I addressed him as “Jim” in front of our kids, they both giggled because they had NEVER heard either one of us call the other by name. Yet, I know that once Jim was in the nursing home, he had to cringe when staff called him by an intimate endearment reserved for use by people who loved him.
When a person’s spoken language is limited, and they are ordered to do something in an unkind tone, or treated like a child, they will react in the only way they can—by resisting. This resistance is looked upon as “behavior” and reflects upon the resident rather than the staff.
Some states require dementia specific training with communication as one of the elements. The results of this study should be reason enough for long term care facilities to go above and beyond any state laws in improving communication between staff and residents. When a resident resists care, it is stressful for staff and increases the time required to complete a task.
Using respectful communication methods is a win-win situation whether your loved one is at home or in long term care. Proper training allows staff to perform at an efficient level, and residents will be more cooperative. Family caregivers can benefit from the knowledge that their communication style can greatly impact their caregiving success.
Source: Respectful Adult Communications Improves Quality of Care in Alzheimer’s at http://www.alz.org/. The study conducted by Kristine N. Williams, RN, PhD, and the University of Kansas School of Nursing was funded by the National Institute of Health.