The Importance of Using In-Time Communication
There are several types of communication that we need to learn to use while caring for those living with dementia. One of the more important forms that I’m constantly advising health care professionals to use is in-time or real-time communication. For example: Mr. Jones is admitted into a hospital. One of the worst things we can tell him on Wednesday is, “On Friday, you are scheduled for 1:00 p.m., to go downstairs to radiology for some testing.” What you have just now created is two full days of higher levels of anxiety and confusion for this man. He will more than likely now be worried—probably to the point of obsession—that there’s somewhere important that he needs to be. Instead, what needs to be said to Mr. Jones, on Friday around noontime, is, “Mr. Jones, I will be back in about 45 minutes so “we” can go downstairs to radiology for some testing.” (Yes, always use that “we” word, so he will be assured that you or someone else will be doing this together with him, as a team.) Honestly, I had to learn this the hard way. I continuously found myself wasting time, and causing turmoil for myself and my dad who was living with Alzheimer’s disease. I would inform him that he had a doctor’s appointment coming up on Monday, leaving him in a state of confusion for the entire weekend. Then, when Monday arrived, it would take everything I had to convince him that he truly needed to go. During the early stages of dementia, this may not be too big of a problem; but as dementia progresses, it’s important to realize that his or her short-term memory will decline. We need to learn to adapt with them and learn proper ways to communicate, without producing high levels of anxiety. I also learned the importance of making sure you are visual when speaking. Again, I would find myself guilty of finishing a sentence while I had my back turned, walking out of the room, only to realize what I had just done, then having to step back in, and repeat what I had just said to him, this time face-to-face. I always had to make certain he clearly understood me. Visual contact is a must! We as healthcare professionals, must remember that in a setting such as a hospital, no patients have been admitted because of their dementia. Some other ailment has brought them into this situation, in which case their cognitive abilities will only be more heavily impaired. In final analysis, we all need to take a few extra steps. We must make sure we limit those dementia patients’ confusion and keep them safe.