Be mindful of your body language and facial expressions
iStock/Alessandro Di Noia
Position and space in relation to your loved one has a lot to do with emotional connection. “Joining an individual on their eye level—sitting down, standing up, or even lying down—shows the person that he or she is respected by you and can trust you,” says Erica Hornthal, a psychotherapist specializing in cognitive disorders and CEO of Chicago Dance Therapy. “Remember you want to see eye-to-eye with this person to help them feel supported and validated.” While it’s undoubtedly difficult, given the circumstances and your loved one’s condition, try and smile. “Your loved one is not able to understand much of what you’re saying, but he can read into your body language and facial expressions,” says FitzPatrick. “Even if he doesn’t recognize you specifically, he will recognize and respond best to a friendly face.” Here are 8 ways to use body language to build trust.
Encourage physical movement
Exercise has been shown to relax the mind, increase the ability to communicate, and therefore allow for greater emotional connection to take place—plus, it’s a great stress reliever for caregivers, too. “The emotional high from the feel-good endorphin released during brisk activity can help make your time together both positive and healthy,” says Holbrook. “A walk around the block, a tandem bike ride or enjoying a yoga class together can help release some of the anxiety that both of you may be feeling surrounding the disease.” Take some time to notice the things that make your family member unique during these activities. The way she always slows down to look at the peonies or the way he adjusts his hat four to five times in an hour. It can also help you both have positive, bonding time together without the pressure of too much conversation.
Incorporate the five senses into your activities
“Listening to a familiar song, tasting something sweet, touching a pet, or watching something bright and colorful takes the expectation of the past out of the equation and allows new memories with positive emotional connections to form,” says Hornthal. “As humans we crave affection and touch, so don’t hesitate to lend your loved one a hand to hold. If he reaches out and grabs your hand, an immediate emotional connection is created.” Just remember to take your cues from the person with Alzheimer’s disease and never force touch where it might not be warranted. As the disease progresses, you may find that using touch more frequently than words helps keep the relationship strong. “Most people with advanced Alzheimer’s disease are only being touched for hygiene, medical exams, etc., so holding hands in an intimate, appropriate way, like brushing their hair or giving them a massage or manicure, are easy ways to connect without words.”