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Beyond Words

Updated: Feb 20, 2023

Blog Post by Oran Aviv

Because of the negative perception surrounding dementia, it is commonly assumed that an individual with dementia who struggles with verbal communication is no longer able to comprehend their surroundings.

Communicating with someone who has dementia and is nonverbal can be challenging, but there are several strategies that can help you connect.

No Longer There

"What's the point of visiting, she doesn't know who I am"

This is how a man explained why he stopped visiting his sister at her care home, because she has dementia and no longer recognizes him.

This hurt so much to hear.

Even though someone living with dementia may not recognize you or know your name, it does not mean that they don’t know you are important to them. (See our blog "The Day She Forgot Who I Am" )

As cognitive abilities decline, a person connects at a more emotional level with others. People with dementia often become more sensitive to others. They can tell who truly cares about them, who is honest and who is just pretending to care.

A few weeks ago I was concerned about one of my clients who has been regressing lately. After not seeing this client for over a month, I did not know how she would react when I visited her at the Savion Adult Day Care Center. I thought we may have to begin our acquaintance from the very beginning again.

When I came to visit my client, she immediately took my hand and explained to the others in the room that I am a very dear friend of hers.

When you build trust, when you genuinely care about the other person, they will remember you are someone who they feel safe with. It really is of no importance that they know your name or who you are. What is important is that they need you. Never stop visiting someone because they have dementia.

AI vs Humans

TodWe are on the verge of a huge change in all our lives and most of us have already been exposed to it, even though many of us may not be aware of this. AI (Artificial Intelligence) is being used in almost every industry. You may have been reading articles that were generated by AI and didn’t even realize it! Last week I was hurt and offended when I took the time to read an article and comment, but the person didn’t even read my reply, he just generated an AI response. I also now realize that the entire article itself was also generated by AI. (Today it’s still easy to recognize text generated by AI, but in the future, it will be more difficult. I think you will always know it’s me by my typos and other mistakes I make in my mad rush to get my weekly blog out on time each week. 😁)

In my exchange with this person who “wrote” the article, there was no human exchange between us. It was me and the robot, but this gives us a opportunity to examine what makes us a person.

We have an example of a perfect AI system that is able to process and analyze large amounts of data, but I’m sure we all feel there is so much more to being a person than this robot. What is that “more” and why do so many people consider that someone who has reduced cognition is "no longer there?" .

People with dementia may experience a loss of cognitive abilities, but they are still human beings with feelings, emotions and needs like all of us. It is through these other areas of their humanness that we can still connect. They are the humans, AI with extraordinary analytic abilities is just robot.

Words, Words, Words

Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words!

Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady

Are there ways to connect with others beyond just using words? I've observed that individuals living with dementia often have a unique ability to connect with others in nonverbal ways. At the Savion Adult Day Care's memory wing, I've noticed that even people who don't speak the same language seem to have a deep understanding of each other through nonverbal communication.

I often just sit and observe the visitors and their interactions with each other:

  • You can see it in their body language how they lean in towards each other.

  • You can see it in their facial expressions, how they smile at each other.

  • You can see it in their touch, one may put his hand other the other’s.

If you didn’t know both languages, you would be sure they understood what they are saying to each other, but they understand each other's intent, rather than just the words being spoken.

We have much to learn about communication from people who are living with dementia who have learned how to connect with each other on other levels.

Connect to the Same Frequency

Finding a massage therapist who truly connects with her clients and understands their needs has been a long journey for me. Recently, I was fortunate enough to discover Hila Bar-Sela.

During our session today, I noticed that the background music was different from previous sessions. I was trying to decide if I liked the new music or if I preferred something different. Before I could even come to a decision, Hila asked me if I would like to hear something else. It was as if she could sense through her touch that I was not fully relaxed.

I explained to Hila that this is the way we connect with people who have dementia and are non-verbal, we connect heart to heart.

Hila said, “Oh you connect to the same energy frequency.”

Wow – that is exactly what we do when we use Naomi Feil’s Validation method, yet I never thought of it that way! We remove or own thoughts and connect at a deeper level with our client so we can try to feel what they are feeling. We try to be on the same frequency as the other person. Thank you Hila, not only for a wonderful massage today, but giving me a clearer way to explain Validation.

Learn to Observe We rely heavily on verbal communication, but there are other nonverbal cues that can give us insight into a person's thoughts and emotions if we try to connect with them at a deeper level.

When you have a chance, try observing someone and see if you can tell what they are feeling. This is an exercise I often do when I’m traveling on the train or even while waiting in line at the supermarket. Anywhere there are people, you can watch and notice:

  • How do they move – quickly or slowly?

  • How do they speak – rushed or have patience?

  • How do they react to others – friendly or aggressively?

  • What do they do with their hands – are they calm or fidgety?

I once observed a couple on a train ride, without hearing their conversation, but by watching their body language and the distance between them. I was able through observation understand what was going on between them. I could tell that they had gone from a state of tension, possibly from a fight or misunderstanding, to trying to resolve their issues, to solving their issues. It was like watching a movie without sound.

Observing nonverbal cues in everyday situations can be a fun and it can help us develop our observation skills. It this way we can learn to understand people better so we won't need to rely solely on verbal communication. In next week's blog I'll explain some non-verbal techniques we can use to connect with someone who has difficulty expressing themselves.


Our next free webinar will be on Jan. 18th, 2023

We will share how simple communication techniques based on Naomi Feil's Validation Method can help us connect deeper to an older person who is living with dementia. Click on the link below to see when the free webinar begins in your time zone and to register.

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Oran will be teaching in the following cities in 2023. Please contact us if you would like to arrange a Hands-on Dementia and/or Validation workshop for the staff at your facility:

March April – Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco

May – Ottawa, New York

August – Seattle, Portland, Vancouver

Our videos for selfcare and tips for caregivers

Do you know about our ebook? You can learn how to use a simple hand reflexology method to help and connect with you loved one who is living with dementia and to use for you own self-care. Our ebook includes video clips for self -learning. Click below of more info and to order.

Hands-On Dementia For Caregivers

A step by step guide to learn 3 reflex points to help your loved one and yourself.

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