Adaptive Interaction and Nonverbal Communication in Dementia

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Adaptive Interaction and Dementia

Adaptive Interaction is a term that describes a method of communication that can help caregivers connect with people living with dementia who have lost the ability to communicate verbally. It is not difficult to learn and it can help to provide contact and engagement, even as the dementia advances.

A common effect of advancing dementia is that the ability to speak can be gradually diminished, until people retain little or no capacity for verbal communication, relying instead on sounds or movements. Despite this, research has shown that people living with advanced dementia do still retain the desire to communicate. (Ellis & Astell, 2006)

This is important, as often people who have lost the capacity for speech are regarded as being withdrawn and consequently shut off from the world around them. Being able to communicate without speech can reduce social isolation, improve quality of life and allow more opportunities for caregivers to engage with people living with advanced dementia.

Connection is Instinctive

Everyone is born with an instinctive desire to connect with other people. We see this in the way a baby will attempt to communicate, perhaps by smiling, crying, opening and closing their tiny hands, or making eye contact. As adults we recognize, enjoy, and respond to these actions, often encouraging them by imitating the sounds and gestures that the baby is making. By mirroring these actions we enable and encourage the baby to engage in social interaction, even before they are able to speak.

Social connection is something that we take for granted, but research indicates that it could also be a key skill that could help us to engage with people as they age and lose the ability to communicate verbally. The way we interact with babies may, in fact, hold the key to how we might communicate with people living with advanced dementia who have lost the capacity to speak.

Mirroring and Observation

Viewed through the lens of Adaptive Interaction, seemingly random actions by people living with advanced dementia, such as tapping, crying out, or repetitive bodily movements can be interpreted as possibly communicative, as opposed to random, or even problematic. It may be, in fact, that by copying, or mirroring the actions, and by paying attention to the mood of the person involved, the caregiver might find a way to communicate with someone unable to speak. More importantly, those individuals with dementia may once again, experience human connection and engagement with their loved ones.

The key principle of Adaptive Interaction is to view all behavior, such as sounds, movements and facial expressions, as potentially intentional attempts to communicate. This approach is primarily based on carefully looking for and observing actions such as sounds, movements, eye contact, gestures, etc., made by the nonverbal partner. These observations can then be used to try to develop an understanding of the ways in which the individual may be attempting to communicate. As these hypotheses are created, the observer can then experiment with reflecting back, or imitating (mirroring) these actions, which may develop into nonverbal conversations.

The actions in question can and will vary enormously from person to person. As mentioned above, examples may include tapping on a surface, touching hands, facial expressions, clapping, movement of feet, other bodily movements, smiling, or even crying out..

It is important to understand that Adaptive Interaction is not a panacea that will fit every person and every circumstance. Equally important for it to be beneficial, the caregiver must genuinely want to connect with the person involved, otherwise it could degenerate into simple mimicry, which would be harmful.

There is a lot of research and a lot of literature available on the subject of Adaptive Interaction and, for any caregivers struggling to communicate with someone who has lost the capacity to speak, it is potentially a valuable skill to investigate and learn.

If you need any assistance in connecting with additional information on the subject of Adaptive Interaction, contact us at customerservice@amindtocare.com and we will endeavor to connect you with material that will be helpful.

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