Saturday, June 26, 2010

Eye to Eye Communication

All eyes were on fathers last Sunday as we celebrated Fathers Day. During Sunday worship which naturally focused on fathers, our pastor talked about what a great father his son is to Lake. When Lake misbehaves, his dad gets on eye level to talk to him. That eye-to-eye contact is key to dealing with inappropriate behavior.

Communication is a problem in any relationship, and can become a major challenge when your loved one has dementia. To keep the lines of communication open, you can develop a strategy to focus on the feelings and not the words.

Jim sometimes said just the opposite of what he meant. If he said, “It’s cold in here!” and he was sweating, I knew he meant “hot.” As the disease progressed, and aphasia silenced Jim, I learned to read his body language and facial expressions to communicate with him. If he cried, I didn’t assume he was sad, I knew he might be hurting.

Some strategies to help keep the lines of communication open with your loved one:

  • Keep good eye contact as you speak.

  • Use short simple words and sentences, but don’t use Elderspeak or baby talk. You are communicating with an adult who has a disease that affects his or her ability to process information.

  • Pause to give your loved one time to process what you have said. Don’t expect a quick response, or even an appropriate one.

  • Use gestures to reinforce your words. Early in the disease when Jim was still able to drive I learned to point left, rather than say “Turn left.”

  • Tone of voice matters. When you speak in a sharp tone, the person may become anxious or combative. If you speak too rapidly or softly, they may not catch what you are saying.

  • Validate the person’s concerns.

One night at the nursing home, I observed a perfect example of how a visitor helped calm a resident by validating his concerns.

The resident, Frank, fidgeted and his brow was wrinkled with worry. He wore his heavy winter coat and paced the hallway. “I need to find a way out of here,” he said. “I have to tend to my cows and put the horses up.”

A man who was leaving after a visit with another resident passed Frank in the hallway and apparently knew what worried Frank and made him restless in the evenings. He stopped and made eye contact with Frank, and patted Frank on the arm as he spoke, “Frank, I’m going to go by your house and feed your cattle and put the horses in the barn.”

Frank turned and headed back to his room. Relief made his walk lighter. “Whew!” he said, “I’m sure glad that is taken care of.”

Just like the father who used eye level communication to get his point across, you show respect by giving the conversation your full attention. You are not talking down to your loved one, but have opened up a line of communication that goes beyond words.

Copyright(c) June 2010 L.S. Fisher


NewKidontheBlogg said...

Simple, direct. I love it. Thanks for keeping these words coming. Linda.

I am reading The 36 Hour Day and the Mayo Clinic book now. A little overwhelming, but we caregivers need all the help we can get.


L.S.Fisher said...


I hope the communication strategies help. I know the books you mention contain a lot of good information.