Every lunch, I assist two ladies with their lunch. Isabel can do a little for herself, such as take a sip of soup when it is in a mug. Sometimes she struggles to get the mug to her mouth, and my hand gently guiding it makes all the difference. She prefers salads to sandwiches, and doesn't like fish.
Freda needs her fluids thickened and her meat minced because of a swallowing problem, and can't feed herself at all.She doesn't say much, but she communicates. At first, her diet was limited, but we have been trying new flavours and textures, and it is clear from the first mouthful what she thinks. She is the judge and jury, and I wait anxiously for the verdict. At the first mouthful of strawberry crepe with cream filling, she beamed. After a spoonful of cold melon soup, she looked troubled.
"Freda, do you like it?" Her brow furrowed, and she concentrated on the answer. After a full minute, she replied, "No!"The soup was removed. Freda had communicated.
Communication can be challenging, frustrating and incredibly rewarding.
Remembering that not everything works all the time, and what worked yesterday might not be effective today, here are some principles:
1. Body language is important. Learn to read the other person. Do you see joy, physical pain, pleasure, fear, anxiety? When you know the signals, you can communicate.
2. Touch is often helpful (although not with everyone and not all the time. Read the signals. See #1)
A light touch and a gentle, non-threatening voice can calm anxiety and assuage fear.
3. Check the environment. Often, a quiet spot without a lot of outside stimulation enhances communication. A television, music or other conversations in the room can be confusing and frustrate communication. If there is a hearing deficit as well, communication won't occur.
4, Identify yourself. "Hi, Mom, it's Brian." Never play the guessing game ("Do you know my name?) which is demoralising. Don't be offended or hurt if they don't know you, or mistake you for another family member, or even another generation.
5. Make eye contact. Don't start to speak until they can see you.
More next week.
In the meantime, think about this: "The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said." Paul Drucker