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Words are like art, there is so much more than the first impression: Communication and dementia

If you are a part of someone’s life who is living with dementia, there may be a loss of language at varying levels throughout the progression of their illness. These difficulties with speech, are referred to as aphasia.

Expressive aphasia entails difficulties formulating words, finding words, and challenges with expressive language or relaying the message. There can be repetitiveness or the creation of new words, in place of forgotten language. Words spoken collectively may not create a complete thought, or occur in a logical sequence. Sometimes there is a reversion to a first language. Receptive aphasia entails difficulty interpreting, understanding, and deciphering the received message.

Communication is an essential part of our lives. We are able to share our thoughts, wishes, needs, desires, connect with others, and relate to our environment.

The individual living with dementia has a voice, and the right to be heard and acknowledged. When their communication is difficult it is beyond their control. Our response however, is governed by our will and desire to listen, and be receptive.

Think about the message your words, tone, and body language are communicating, and instil some time, and PATIENCE in your response.

P: Patience, do not rush someone who is trying to express themselves, be attentive A: Active listener, don’t correct a story, ask for details and listen T: Talk about the past, reminisce, older memories are more accessible I: Initiate communication: sometimes withdrawal is present because of fear of judgement, or difficulties initiating a conversation E: Evaluation: is there help that could be obtained from an SLP (Speech Language Pathologist) evaluation? Would a pictorial speech board help? N: Not the right time? Is the individual living with dementia uncomfortable; physically, fatigued or distracted? How can you help? C: Communicate through words, pictures, signage, hand gestures (modelling the use of an item) etc. and keep communicating E: Examine your own response to communication and the environment. What barriers may be affecting a successful and rewarding exchange? Is the room too noisy? Is there good eye contact? Are assistive aids (glasses and hearing) in place? Is your body language or tone implying you are rushed, frustrated, or enjoying the conversation?

I hope my poetic thoughts encourage you to continue communicating when visiting someone living with dementia, even if their words seem lost. Silence is not is isolating.

I AM Listening Words like swirling leaves around me, Dancing near to tantalize, Falling just beyond my reach, I beckon them to linger closer. Whispered comments fill my presence, As if my mind does not detect, The essence of the raw emotion Of tender memories. Despair not by my side however, For this reflection somewhat clouded Is only just a mirrored image, Where spirits deep defy detection. Waiting for your story silent, Those treasured moments once revealed, Longing for your present journey, For I am listening quietly. Talk to me as once we could, With cares and joys and sorrows living, Although I may not seem to know, I am and always was.

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