Did you know that spoken words only account for 7% of communication? The remaining 93% is conveyed through body language, vocal tone and pitch. Communication style becomes especially important when someone in your life is living with memory loss.
When communicating with someone suffering from memory loss:
- Stand at eye level in front of them so they benefit from seeing your body language and facial expressions.
- Slow down your speech because their brains process information more slowly.
- Don’t interrupt: take time to listen to the person’s response. If they are especially stuck on a word, kindly supply the word and see how they react. If they don’t appear to want the help, let them manage on their own.
- Ask one question at a time and ask questions that require simple yes or no answers. For instance, “Do you want scrambled or fried eggs this morning?” instead of “How would you like your eggs this morning?”
- Where possible, supplement your communication with visual cues. Smile often, not only because it conveys warmth and caring, but also because smiling can make you feel better too.
- Touch is a powerful communicator. When used positively, touch can convey caring and warm feelings. It only takes a moment to offer a pat on the shoulder or a gentle hand squeeze.
- Phone calls are especially challenging for someone who has memory loss because the only communication cues they receive are words (7%) and vocal tone and pitch (38%). Limit phone conversations to a minute or so and say something positive like, “I was thinking of you and just wanted to call and say hello.” Consider using Skype or another one of the visual software methods on a computer, tablet or iPad to communicate.
- Spend time together in companionable silence. It can be exhausting for someone living with memory loss to continually process communication. Sit across from the person or at 90 degrees so they can easily see you.
Be aware of how you are communicating and whether it is having desirable results such as smiles, nodding, and looking contented, happy, or relaxed. If not, review your style to see if you should adjust an aspect of your technique.
*Adapted from an article by Karen Love with Advancing Person-Centered Living