Nonverbal Communication: The Art of Connecting with Your Loved One


For loved ones living with Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia or neurological conditions, the ability to communicate slowly disappears. In the case of Alzheimer’s, a loved one will have trouble finding the right words, repeat themselves and eventually won’t be able to speak or understand what others say. In order to connect with their loved one in the latest stages of such diseases, caregivers and family members have to learn the language of nonverbal communication.

“Often the most frustrating part of caring for someone with memory loss or a chronic illness that limits speech is difficulty in communication,” says Ruth Cantillon, Director of Sales and Marketing at Osprey Lodge, an assisted living and memory care community in Tavares, FL. “Not being able to express themselves is equally as frustrating for the loved one. However, families can learn to communicate in ways other than words.

“People in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease are often very sensitive to emotion, even when they can’t express it. You can learn how to care for your loved one’s spirit as you care for their physical health by utilizing communication techniques that support and comfort, rather than frustrate and confuse.”

A Loss for Words: Late-Stage Illness

Although Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias may be the most common occurrences of loss of speech or communication difficulties, other disorders, chronic conditions and senior-related health problems can also necessitate using nonverbal communication techniques. A few examples include:

  • Stroke and subsequent aphasia
  • Untreated hearing loss
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
  • Lou Gehrig’s disease (or ALS)
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Huntington’s disease

Most of these conditions are progressive in nature, so the ability to communicate verbally slowly diminishes over time. By the later stages, those living with these health problems experience the negative impact of their loss of speech on their overall well-being, hindering their interactions with others, social connections and the ability to access proper care for their physical health.

Learn the Language: Nonverbal Communication Techniques

If your loved one is living with Alzheimer’s disease or another condition that limits their use and understanding of language, you can still show them that you care by learning several nonverbal techniques for communicating. Experts from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) and the Institute on Aging offer several ways to use nonverbal communication to express your love, care and concern. A few techniques include:

  • Body Language – Experts agree that those with cognitive impairments such as dementia can be extremely intuitive and sensitive to the emotions of those around them. Your loved one may easily be able to pick up on your frustrated mood and reflect it in their behavior. Pay attention to your body language when interacting with your loved one, considering what your posture and movements communicate about how you’re feeling.
  • Tone of Voice – Even if your loved one has trouble speaking, their ability to understand what you say may last much longer. When speaking to your loved one, remember to speak with a calm tone of voice. Annunciate your words clearly and talk at a slow pace to help give your loved one time to process what you say.
  • Eye Contact – When speaking to your loved one, be sure to make eye contact. Face them straight on and try to get on their level, sitting down or kneeling if need be. Making eye contact helps them concentrate on what you are saying.
  • Visual Cues – If your loved one has trouble understanding your instructions, try to communicate using visual cues to help them follow along. Make gestures, hand them objects or point to things. For example, if you’re trying to tell them to brush their teeth, make a brushing motion and hand them their toothbrush.
  • Physical Touch – A gentle, caring touch can sometimes communicate more than words ever can. Be generous when making contact with your loved one. However, be careful to avoid startling them from behind or making sudden movements that could seem invasive or threatening. Also be sure to allow your loved one personal space when they need it.
  • Humor – Laughter can lighten your loved one’s mood and help give them a sense of inclusion and normalcy. Sometimes, laughing with your loved one can be a great gift for both of you. Allow humor to be a part of your caregiving communication (as long as it’s not at the expense of your loved one). Share funny stories or watch old comedies with them, like Charlie Chaplin films.
  • Keep Talking – Even after your loved one has lost the ability to speak, and you’re no longer sure if they can understand what you’re saying, keep talking to them anyway. Speaking to them shows that you are paying attention and that you still care. Carrying on a conversation, albeit one-sided, is a small way of maintaining your loved one’s dignity and sense of self-worth throughout the later stages of their disease.

Creating Connections: Caring for Caregivers

At Osprey Lodge, care staff are specially trained in geriatric care, experienced and willing to help seniors and their family caregivers understand the best ways of caring for their unique health needs. If you could use more help learning about your loved one’s disease or using nonverbal communication techniques, the experts at Osprey Lodge can help.

“Our community offers more than just quality Assisted Living and dignified Memory Care,” says Cantillon. “We provide a full schedule of educational and social events, as well as offer support for family caregivers and their loved ones. We’re eager to help seniors remain independent and healthy in the care of their loved ones as long as possible, so we support caregivers whenever we can. It’s our mission to enrich the lives of seniors in our community.”

Come Flourish at Osprey Lodge!

Located on the banks of Lake Frances, Osprey Lodge offers Assisted Living and Memory Care services within the rustic warmth of a Colorado lodge in the rolling hills of central Florida. We provide an environment of socialization and volunteerism, as well as dependable health care services that promote independence, self-direction, social connections and daily purpose.

The Lodge lifestyle is a unique approach to senior living. While aging does come with challenges, our culture of connections creates an environment for residents to find daily purpose and joy. Here, residents don’t lose their independence. Instead, they receive countless avenues for which to connect with others through social activities or volunteer opportunities. We believe that everyone has something to contribute to their community, and we consider it our mission to help residents find what they can give – their skills, talents, company and enthusiasm.

Residents in our Assisted Living community and Memory Care program experience personalized, comprehensive healthcare services from dedicated, experienced professionals and staff. Each resident works with us to create their own Personal Care Plan, designed specifically for them to enjoy optimal independence while receiving the quality care they require.

We invite you to learn more about the fulfilling lifestyle and serves available at Osprey Lodge. Contact us today!