Thursday, December 31, 2015

Alzheimer’s Communication: The Sounds of Silence

Simon and Garfunkel’s song “The Sounds of Silence” always touched me. When I heard the cover performed by Disturbed, it made me hear the lyrics in a different context—a more urgent one. The same words performed in a different manner brought a new dimension to the song and made me pay attention to parts of it that just blended into the background before.

The haunting lyrics of “The Sounds of Silence” make me think of how Jim’s voice was silenced with aphasia during his years with dementia. His problems began with just a few jumbled words until his voice was stilled except for an occasional word. When a spoken word broke through the boundary of silence, it was as treasured as a rare jewel.

Mostly, Jim learned to talk without speaking, without words. His mannerisms became the clues that told us of his needs. His eyes communicated his pleasure, pain, joy, confusion, and a myriad of emotions.

Jim always said he knew me better than I knew myself, and I believe that was the key to our communication. Instinctively, he knew how to get his point across.

Communicating with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s requires some thought. When you consider that only about 7% of communication is from words, it opens many possibilities.

1.      Speak in simple, straight-forward sentences and give only one instruction at a time. If I ever asked Jim to do two things in one sentence, he only reacted to the second request.
2.      Patience is your friend! Allow time for a response. Don’t expect a quick response, or even an appropriate one.
3.      Use body language to get your point across. Your loved one will understand tone of voice and body language long beyond the time when they understand your words. Point, demonstrate, or use props. Also, watch your loved one’s body language. Restlessness, irritability, and other physical symptoms will alert you to their distress.
4.      Validate the emotions you see and hear. Their reaction to something might be completely different from yours, or even what you would expect theirs to be. They may re-live grief over and over, or may not acknowledge there is anything to grieve even when a close relative dies.

Throughout life, we communicate—from a baby’s cry, parenting, learning in school, to our last profound words. Life is more complicated and confusing when we lose our lifelong ability to communicate effectively.

Communication isn’t easy when your loved one has dementia, but putting in the effort to keep the lines of communication open will help your loved one and you maintain a happier relationship. Loving words, hugs, and smiles will convey your deepest feelings. When you listen with your heart, the sounds of silence will tell you everything you need to know.  

Copyright © December 2015 by L.S. Fisher

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