Effective Communication: Looking at Your Sentences
Last updated: September 2022
We've all been there. You're out to dinner on a Saturday night in a packed restaurant and it's way too loud. You can barely hear the person sitting next to you, let alone what conversation may be happening further down the table. You're straining your ears and getting frustrated that you can't fully understand what is being said.
Now imagine that it's not just the fact that it's incredibly noisy but also that your brain can't process speech as easily as before. It becomes even harder to understand others and give an appropriate response. This is what a person with Alzheimer's may experience when they are in loud, noisy situations and trying to participate in a group conversation.
Is there a way to make it easier for them to comprehend what is being said? A group of researchers in Canada decided to find out.
Looking at your sentences
In an article published in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, researchers determined that people with Alzheimer's benefit from receiving audiovisual speech cues when communicating in a place with lots of background noise. They also found that highly contextual sentences were easier for people with Alzheimer's to understand.1
What is an audiovisual cue?
An audiovisual cue is given when your lips move while you are talking and making certain movements. Believe it or not, we all read lips when conversing. Other examples of audiovisual cues include facial expressions and body language.
We are always observing and adjusting based on the expressions and movements of others. These signals are crucial in helping people with Alzheimer's and other forms of communication disorders understand and interpret what is being said to them.
What is supportive sentence context?
A supportive sentence context means that the sentence contains words that easily relate to each other. The sentence has an anticipatory feel.
For example, the researchers used this sentence in their study: "Stir your coffee with a spoon." The sentence is straightforward and contains words typically associated with each other: stir, spoon, and coffee.1
By contrast, the researchers also used a sentence with low context: "George did not think about the fork." The words of this sentence do not commonly go together (unless your name is George and you eat with a fork).1
How can this help my loved one?
You can use the information found by this research team as one strategy for communicating with your loved one.
First, if possible, avoid going to places with high noise levels. Turning and directly facing your loved one can help if you find yourself in a loud environment or any conversational environment. Make sure they can see your lips and your facial expressions. While speaking, try to use common words and shorter sentences with high context. Hopefully, this will cut down on questions asking you to repeat yourself or clarify what you are saying.
Putting it all together
With Alzheimer's, communication becomes increasingly difficult for both the speaker and the person on the receiving end of the message. Limiting noise and speaking directly to your loved one may help make it easier. Sentences that use words with high context will be easier to understand than sentences with words that are less related.
Audiovisual cues can be beneficial during the conversation. It may take a bit more brain power on your end, but it could result in a little less frustration for you and your loved one.
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