Community Views: Tips on Using Nonverbal Cues for Better Care
Last updated: July 2023
Communication becomes challenging when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's. Thinking beyond words is essential. Using the senses, such as touch, hearing, and sight, can be more effective.
Recently, members of the AlzheimersDisease.net Facebook community answered the questions: "What are some nonverbal cues that have helped with communication? How have they helped?"
Their responses were insightful.
Miming or signing actions
A response several respondents shared was miming certain actions. Words are often confusing. Using actions or motions shows a loved one what to do.
"Fingers to mouth to indicate time to eat. Rub stomach and use eyes to question (hungry). Beckon with arm - come."
"If they don't understand what you are asking them to do, mirror what you need."
"Demonstrating desired action. Offering hand to walk. Patting seat of chair to sit."
The power of music
Many respondents found music bridged the communication gap. When words were a struggle, music spoke to their loved ones. It was calming. Favorite songs do not require a person to form words into an idea. Memory unlocks the lyrics, and they burst forth. Talking or answering questions can be much more trying.
"I sang 'You Are My Sunshine' and 'A Bushel and a Peck' to my husband at every visit. He always smiled and seemed to enjoy it."
"Playlist of favorite songs."
"My husband's neurologist told Jesse to listen to classical music, but he hated that. So we listened to his favorite – Merle Haggard."
"My friend's mom couldn't talk anymore, but she could sing along!"
Touch to soothe
In caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's, touch was soothing at times. Care partners found holding hands or rubbing their loved one's back would calm the person. It was a point of focus and did not require words.
"Hand holding to relieve their anxiety and making them feel safe."
"A human touch – my mom loved having her back scratched and her face stroked."
"Holding and rubbing her hand, rubbing her back."
Reading bodily cues
Learning a loved one's cues is essential when speaking is a challenge. The more time respondents took to observe their loved ones, the more they learned. The person with Alzheimer's is communicating. Learning their body cues can help care partners tend to their loved one's needs.
"My dad could show me fear, happiness, sadness, tiredness, and many more feelings."
"He gets very rigid when I'm trying to help him sit down, especially in the bathroom. This is because he is afraid, not because he is being stubborn. If I stop, hug him, and speak gently, it calms him, and he lets me guide him to a seated position."
"The hands are in constant movement. Touching everything around as if to study. Reaching for my hand and holding it for a long time. No words being said, but communicating through touch."
"My mom's eyes tell me everything. Happiness, sadness, or pain."
"The eyes can really show you what their needs or feelings are. Confusion especially."
Saying I love you
There are many ways to show love for someone. Saying "I love you" may not be the best. Several respondents shared how they said "I love you" to a loved one with Alzheimer's without using words.
"Dad and I would tell each other 'I love you' by pointing at our eyes, then clasping our hands over our hearts with lovey eyes, then pointing to each other. That proved invaluable the last 3 months of his life."
"When I kissed her hand, it said 'I love you,' and she always looked pleased."
We appreciate all the community members' responses to our prompt. Learning about different forms of nonverbal communication helps everyone to navigate this road.
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