Color & Control:

Tips for Better Communication

I found the following three tips very helpful when my mom became easily confused and therefore frightened by the world around her and she could no longer put her feelings or wants into words.

By Susanne White

There is nothing like a good listener. Having someone truly interested in what you have to say is empowering, soothing and calming. Having someone calmly pay close attention to what they are saying or trying to say would allow them to feel heard and therefore less frightened. When my mom would become agitated and upset for what appeared to be no reason, I learned to ask how she was doing and really listen to the answer. If the answer made no sense, I would try to listen in other ways. I would stop and see if she was in pain, if she was hungry or tired, or if anything that was happening around her would cause her to be upset or agitated. I could then make the appropriate adjustments to see if she felt better.

Listening by observing is a powerful way to communicate. People know and feel on many different levels when you are truly interested in what they have to say. Communication, although a two-way street, begins with a sincere desire to listen to each other. Being patient, kind and open when someone struggles to communicate makes their efforts feel respected and worthwhile. Everyone wants to be heard and respected, no matter what the situation is.

Use the right tone of voice
So often it doesn’t matter what we say but how we say it. Our tone of voice communicates so much more than what we are actually saying. People suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s are super-sensitive to the tones behind our words. Even though they might not understand those words, they can feel and resonate with the emotion of the tone of voice.

Often we are not even aware that frustration, anger or annoyance are being communicated by our tone of voice, even though we are saying something completely harmless or seemingly simple. Becoming aware of our tone of voice and making sure we are using a warm, friendly and loving tone when we speak to everyone ensures a calm, gentle environment and helps avoid tension and agitation. Using a tone that is authentic, calm and compassionate allows us to communicate a positive and comforting mood, even if the actual words and thoughts are not understood.

Don’t argue and don’t correct
I have learned so much by asking myself the simple question: “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” This question has helped me avoid arguments time and again. By asking ourselves this question we can put things in perspective and prevent needless confrontation. When communicating with those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, the need to be right, win an argument or make a point is completely unnecessary and can create useless and upsetting conflict.

The same holds true with the need to correct our loved ones when they are mistaken or confused. It’s pointless to force them to try to understand or agree with us. Instead, we can acknowledge what they are saying and re-direct their concerns or observations by agreeing, saying we understand or using kind phrases with an enthusiastic tone, such as “Is that right?” “You don’t say” or “I didn’t know that!” If they are expressing anger or fear we can simply say: “I’m so sorry. How can I help?”

Changing the subject or diverting a person’s attention to something else that pleases them or makes them happy can also work wonders. Rather than engage in an argument or make the individual feel insecure or defensive, we can introduce a favourite topic or bring up a pleasant memory that encourages them to feel safe and happy.

I know that when I believe I am being heard and acknowledged, I feel encouraged and validated. While we might not always be able to understand or communicate the way we wish with our loved ones, our patience, tone of voice and ability to accept and surrender to the limitations we face will guide us to compassionate and loving experiences with them. We can enjoy precious time with our loved ones, and they can feel validated and safe.

Susanne White is the founder of Caregiver Warrior. She was blessed with the opportunity to care for her parents and ventured out on a caregiving journey that would change her life. She blogs about this journey on her website and shares her experiences, strength and hope with others so that they too may survive caregiving with grace and empowerment.

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