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Behaviours of concern often occur between the person with dementia and their carers. Carers in their interactions provide a set of contextual cues and prompts that influence the person with dementia’s behavioural response. Identifying and modifying any aspects of the carer’s communication style that contribute to the behaviour will improve the outcome.

For example, a carer who is stressed because the person they are caring for is repeatedly asking what the time is, will tell the person the time, but will convey their frustration at the person with dementia by using a firmer tone of voice and perhaps clenching their fists. The person with dementia will then respond to the actions and expressed emotion of the carer, instead of the words.

When thinking about the way that carers communicate and interact with the person with dementia, consider both the verbal and non-verbal aspects.

Non-verbal communication – ignoring the words, what message is being conveyed by

  • Body language – posture (leaning towards the speaker) and gestures (arm and hand movements)
  • Facial expression – eyebrows (raised or furrowed), jaw (clenched or relaxed) mouth (smile or frown)
  • Tone of voice – inflection, pitch (low or high), volume (loud or quiet)
  • Pace of speech – fast (excitement / anger) or slow (calm / disengaged)
  • Eye contact –insufficient (disinterested) or intense (threatening)
  • Approach – threatening (startle reaction or the person pulling away) or non threatening

Verbal communication – ignoring the delivery, what message is being conveyed by:

  • Message complexity – the number and complexity of ideas communicated
  • Word complexity – complicated jargon / over-simplification

Useful resources

Service Publisher Website
Dementia Education Online NSW/ACT Dementia Training Study Centre dementia.uow.edu.au
Help Sheets dementia australia www.dementia.org.au

Important considerations

  • One of the nost challenging aspects of caring for a person with demetia is learning to develop new approaches to communicating
  • Consider both verbal and non-verbal communication when interacting with a person with dementia.

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