There are many reasons a person may not be able to verbally communicate. The answer could be as simple as a stubborn will. More likely, it involves Alzheimer’s, dementia or other medical issues including reactions to certain medications. When words are gone or memory fails, even for a short period of time, we have to learn other ways to communicate so people will feel valued and loved.
We all have been around people who find it difficult or impossible to speak. If they have been long-time friends, we wonder how to respond if they do not recognize us. If we look the other way or find an excuse to leave quickly, the end result may result in embarrassment, rejection, or hurt feelings.
Follow these basic guidelines to improve communication in any situation.
1. Always take time to acknowledge someone you meet in public.
Have you crossed the street to avoid meeting an old friend with Alzheimer’s? Greeting the hurting couple with a handshake and sincere smile might boost their confidence and help them cope in awkward situations. Depending on circumstances, you might offer to carry bags, buy a cup of coffee, or promise to pray faithfully for them.
2. Acknowledge each person you meet in a home setting.
Jenny was caring for her elderly aunt who was deaf. On my first visit, no one introduced the aunt although she was in her wheelchair in the middle of the room. Before greeting anyone else, I went directly to the frail, little woman whom I had not met before. With a broad smile, she took my outstretched hands and gave them a good squeeze. She needed to be recognized and encouraged.
3. Find creative ways to communicate non-verbally.
A young man will drive all day to spend a few hours with his grandmother. Her days of visiting with him verbally are gone forever and yet this is a special time for each of them. Before the grandson visits his parents or anyone else in the home, he heads directly to his grandmother’s chair. Her quiet little world suddenly brightens as he smiles, hugs on her and asks, “Would you like a candy bar, Grandma?” Excitement will mount as he slowly unwraps a Hershey bar. No words can describe the very real, very intense “conversation” that follows as he makes sure Grandma knows she is loved.
4. Accept the situation as it is; not as you wish it were.
When a mother says bluntly, “I am not your mother”, you have to accept the fact that, in her mind, you are a stranger caring for her. Whether she knows you as her daughter or not is not the primary issue. She needs to know the person taking care of her loves her and she needs to be assured she is in a safe environment.
A need for acceptance is built inside each of us. We long to please, to be a part of the activity in our surroundings. We need to feel loved.
Experience has taught me, when my own feelings of loneliness, inadequacy, or exhaustion surface, all I need do is find someone to love on a bit. There is truly healing in a kind word or hug. Jesus said, “Love one another.” I trust you will find someone needing a big hug and a smile and share with them today. It’s contagious.