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!
OUR ABILITY TO INTERPRET, UNDERSTAND, VALIDATE AND EMPATHIZE
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.
WORD FINDING DIFFICULTIES/WORD REPLACEMENT
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- pixabay.com (no attribution required)