Over the past week, the same theme seems to be popping up in conversations with others… connection! When it comes to making a difference in the lives of the aging seniors I work with, connection is key!

I read somewhere once that seniors put more value on companionship than practical assistance. This stuck with me, not because it surprised me but because I could see why.

We lose our relationships as we age and when we become more isolated due to age related challenges, injury, or disease, maintaining the connection we value in our lives can sometimes become almost impossible.  

Working as a Recreation Therapist I have learned that meaningful connections can come in all shapes and sizes. Whether I have developed a friendship with a client over an extended period of time, sharing inside jokes, deep conversation and support for one another, or just making a quick stop in the care facility hallway to say hello to an acquaintance, give a quick smile, and a genuine compliment. Both are meaningful and both make a difference to that person.

Meaningful connections are fundamental to what we do as Recreation Therapists and we have learned what it takes to ensure we cultivate those connections with all the people we work with. We do this by way of:

·         Listening (not just to respond, but to understand)

·         Empathy

·         Compassion

·         Analyzing body language and behaviours to help us read between the lines and respond to people appropriately

·         Genuinely caring about the welfare of those we work with

·         Discovering each person’s true interests, needs, strengths and life experiences

·         Giving our time (whether 2 minutes or 2 hours) to that person without distraction or the need to be somewhere else

There are many ways to develop and nurture meaningful connections. One thing that I personally would add to the list is HUGS! In my opinion, hugs are fantastic! They make one feel safe, warm, loved, and when shared for long enough, apparently, release feel good hormones in the brain. I feel that hugs aren’t shared enough and for those aging seniors who are isolated and have an extremely small or non-existent social circle, barely get a chance to enjoy physical contact with others. Most often the reactions I receive are full of smiles, surprise and joy in the interaction. A wonderful shared moment!

If you plan to start giving out more hugs, be sure at ask permission first. Of course, it is always important to ask before entering someone’s personal space

Photo credit: all photos- (no attribution required)


June is effective communication month!

Our discussion continues around effective communication and how important it is, as it has the power to make or break a caring relationship. Or any relationship really! This becomes an even more pertinent point when it comes to aging seniors who are living with dementia. When they experience changes in their abilities to communicate effectively and so we need to be aware and learn how to succeed with them despite the challenges that come with cognitive changes. We often see individuals start to speak their first language or mixing it with English. People may become more introverted and will speak less as they have a harder time articulating their thoughts and words. 



Often times we see people revert to the language they first learned as a child. The things we learn early in life are often the last things we forget. This can make communication even more challenging, unless you are lucky enough to speak the language yourself!

Ask for English

When you find yourself in a situation where you don’t understand the language, let the person know. Let them know you do not understand the language and if they can say it in English. Sometimes, that’s all it takes and you are on your way to better understanding the message!

Respond as Best You Can

 Engage with them even if you can’t understand the language. This lets the person know you are listening, which is so important. Tell the person know you don’t understand and use body language as well. So much of our communication in nonverbal, it can go a long way in being understood.

Learn a Few Key Phrases

A little effort can often go a long way! Learn a few key phrases so you can engage in the person’s own language. Whether they are common phrases used in order to meet their needs or just to say good morning and ask how they are, it is often met with great appreciation and increases the sense of connection and trust.

Find an Interpreter

We are lucky to live in such a multicultural society here in Canada! If you don’t speak the language, you might have someone close to you that does! A co-worker, friend or neighbor? Just ask! There are so many people out there ready and willing to lead a hand.



When someone is very quiet it can often make us feel uncomfortable and can also make communication more challenging.



Get Comfortable

We don’t always have to be talking or filling the silence. Who said, “silence is golden”? well, there is definitely truth to that. I remember reading a quote (by whom I have no idea) and thinking how true it was… “true friendship is when you can sit in silence and feel like it’s the best conversation you’ve ever had”. Talking isn’t always the answer. Sometimes all we need is to know we are not alone.

Yes or No

Sometimes the use of yes or no questions is all you need to carry a “conversation” or to get the information you need. Just be careful not to ask too many questions, that can become overwhelming and irritating.

Body Language

Here is a fantastic opportunity to practice your ability to interpret body language. Pay attention to the tiny things, as they can mean a lot. Is the person making eye contact? Are they smiling? Do they have a furrowed brow? Are their eyes tearing up?  How a person is truly feeling shows up in their body language.


That’s it until next time! I hope you found these tips useful. Stay tuned! Next blog I will start the conversation around changing our own communication style and techniques to communicate effectively.

Thanks for reading!!

Photo credit: all photos- (no attribution required)

Effective Communication Changes Everything!

June is Effective Communication Month!

Effective communication is a two-way street, as conversations are two sided. Everyone involved has a significant impact on the end result. So, not only is it important to pay attention to how we interact, but also how others interact with us. What is being said is not always exactly what is meant. Fine tuning our ability to change how we communicate, but also how we interpret and understand others.

This is a big topic to cover, so luckily for you, it will be broken up into manageable bit sized pieces!



Effective communication is so important in any relationship. It is essential and the foundation to maintaining great relationships. It becomes even more important when the relationships we have with people change due to cognitive changes.  How easily people can follow, interpret and understand can put a lot of strain on a relationship. With so many aging seniors living with dementia, changing the way in which we communicate is key to a healthy and successful relationship, as their way of communicating can change dramatically with the progression of the disease.

The first step to working towards communicating effectively with someone with dementia is understanding and recognizing the changes in their communication.

Changes you might recognize might include:

·         Word finding difficulties

·         Replacing a word that are forgotten with a new one

·         “word salad” – unable to string a recognizable sentence together

·         Reverting to the language they first learned

·         Becoming quieter/talking less than usual

When we know what changes are occurring we can then take steps to increase our ability to understand. Feeling heard and understood is such a feeling of relief for anyone, but even more so for those who struggle to communicate and feel frustration in the process. Let’s look at some of the challenges and how we can work to overcome them.



When one word doesn’t seem to make sense, or is out of context, or perhaps there is a long pause ending in “oooohhh, what’s the word?”. This can throw you for a loop and misunderstandings can happen.


First, listen. Really listen to the whole sentence an any other information the person might be sharing with you. What the actual word intended to be might be totally obvious.


If you are still not sure of what word the person really means, ask for a description. “I am not sure what you mean by ____. Can you describe it to me?” or “I am not sure what ___ is. Tell me more about ____.”



Word salad can often be the most challenging to understand and required a bit for effort in figuring it all out. The words come out all jumbled up and out of order, some new made up words that have no meaning to you. It can often seem completely undecipherable. But, there is hope!  

Acknowledging the struggle

When someone is clearly struggling with a conversation or just trying to get a message across, my first step is often to acknowledge the struggle and validate how it must feel or provide reassurance that we will work together to figure it out. This approach is very often met with feelings of gratitude and relief.

Listen carefully and ask

A part of listening is giving the person enough time to put their thoughts into words. Once they have finished speaking, do your best to interpret what they have said. Give it your best shot, and ask, “Is that right?” If you are off base, no worries! Work together with some trial and error.

Trial and Error

Use your powers of observation to attempt the solve the communication riddle. Is the person holding something? Looking in a certain direction? Using movements? Etc.  What other information can you use to interpret what is being said. Narrow down the possibilities and ask for confirmation. Rule of thumb for effective communication “ASK”! always ask and never assume anything.

Celebrate the victory

 Share with the person how glad you are that you could help, how great it to figure it out, work together and how well they did in helping you out. “I am so glad we were able to figure it out together! Feels good, doesn’t it?” or “You did a great job, I knew it was in there somewhere!”

It is important to note that your approach is very important in any situation, so be mindful of who you are talking to and what kind of a relationship you already have with them.


That’s it until next time! I hope you found these tips useful. Stay tuned! Next blog I will share tips on how to overcome challenge when a person reverts to their first language and also when someone become quieter and talks less and less.

Thanks for reading!!

Photo credit: all photos- (no attribution required)


May is Photo Month! 

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Perhaps there is truth in this?

Photographs hold the power to sway decision making, form judgement, sell, educate, to inspire action or to stay it. Through my years of working as a Recreation Therapist with aging seniors and those living with dementia, photos and pictures have always played a key role in my work.

Photographs can stir up emotions and specific memories. They are a window into a person’s heart and soul, a visual representation of who they were and what shaped them into the person they became.  They help us to understand the needs and desires of those who may not be able to speak or articulate their thoughts as they used to. They can create a connection between two people that would not have existed otherwise. Life would not be the same without photos, especially when they can do so much for someone. Below are a few examples of how that can be. 




With the difficult transition of moving into a care home, thoughtfully selected pictures from home can transform bare white walls in a seemingly cold and completely unfamiliar place into a haven of familiarity, warmth and comfort. 



A collection of Photographs or pictures of items, foods, activities or emotional states can create an invaluable tool when barriers to communication exist.  



Photograph albums which were once a way to relive the joy of a vacation, a new home or a family gathering, becomes a legacy. A well labeled photo album can be a great way to connect with your loved one, share memories and learn more about them than you ever thought possible.

  1. Photo credit: 1- (no attribution required), 2- (no attribution required), 3- (no attribution required)