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Therapeutic communication with people living with dementia

Is your communication effective for the people you communicate with?

What signs do you look for that show you are creating/sustaining well-being in a person?

People who live with dementia need extra effort with communication from those around them in order to remain socially connected and valued. This can be as simple as making the effort to sit for a moment to break their isolation. Or it may be more a shift of awareness that you make so you can sense the mood or perspective of the person with dementia.

The usual basics of good communication with people who have cognitive impairment also apply: Get eye-contact, approach from the front, give time to respond, one thing at a time.

In addition to these we may learn from the work of Tom Kitwood who identified among other things the need to be Respectful, Empowering, Inclusive, Enabling, Validating, working at a relaxed pace and Genuine.

How do we know we are being effective or having a therapeutic effect on the person we are with? Below are some of the signs you might look for.

• Assertiveness, or being able to express wishes in an acceptable way

• Bodily relaxation (facial expression and body posture)

• Positive mood (happiness and contentment shown in smiling, laughing, chuckling, humming)

• Engagement with the world around them (people, objects, activities)

• Sensitivity to the emotional needs of others

• Taking pleasure in some aspects of daily life

• Helpfulness

• Initiating social contact

• Affection

• Self-respect (such as being concerned about hygiene, tidiness and appearance)

• Creative self-expression (such as singing, dancing or painting)

• Humour

If the person is showing some of these signs you may be hopeful that they are experiencing your presence as therapeutic.

This is barely an introduction to the notion of therapeutic communication and more information will be available in a more detailed discussion in future newsletters.

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