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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds Communication is a basic human need. It enables us to project our identity and have our identity confirmed. But what is communication? Let’s think about this using the questions “who”, “how”, “what”, and “where”. First of all, who is communicating? The communicators are obviously often people, but this could also be computer systems, such as automated checkouts, or animals. For communication to take place, we need some form of code– a common system of meaning shared by a group. Codes can be things like– facial expressions, body language and language itself, language in all its forms encodes ideas into words and symbols.

Skip to 1 minute and 4 seconds Language is a code that can be conveyed in different ways. It can be spoken and written, and it can also be signed. Another part of “how” is the channel used for communication. Language that is written can be presented on paper, on a computer screen; spoken language can be heard face to face or through a telephone.

Skip to 1 minute and 31 seconds The “what” of communication is the message itself– an idea, an instruction, a memory, a point of connection. A response, or feedback, confirms that the message has been understood. Sometimes “noise” gets in the way, breaking down the communication and response. For good communication we also need to think about where it takes place– are there distractions? Does the situation match the topic to be communicated? What are the expectations and assumptions.

How do we communicate?

This week, we’ll hear from Dr Ian James and Dr Tony Young who share with us their thoughts about the importance of communication. We will explore both verbal and non verbal communication, and address some of the challenges we face in communicating well with people with dementia.

We know that communication is important. But how do we communicate?

Being a good communicator involves paying attention to the many things that can support or hinder personal connection. Checking we have understood what someone means demonstrates we are taking the other person seriously. We can support this by paying attention to:

  1. Conversation ability:
    • our speaking and listening skills

    For example, when listening it is important that we use our whole body to indicate we are paying attention. We should try to pick up clues to meaning, and focus on the positives of what a person is conveying to us, rather than picking up on what’s missing.

  2. Checking understanding:
    • of the person’s history
    • what they have communicated to you
    • what their behaviour might be telling us

    At the end of a conversation, making a person feel that you have understood them and valued their time by making a positive comment can increase their self-esteem.

As dementia progresses, we might find that the channels we use to communicate need to change, or we may need to adapt the message, or change where we communicate.

Later in in the week, in Step 2.16, we’ll discuss how technologies might help us communicate. We’ll hear again from Leon, who talks about using the telephone and Skype to connect with his father.

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Dementia Care: Staying Connected and Living Well

Newcastle University

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