My last post raises the question “but how can you listen to someone with dementia who is either incoherent or totally silent?”
There are two particularly talkative women in the dementia house where I work. One of them fluctuates between English and her first language but, regardless of what language she is speaking, her monologues are extremely difficult to understand.
The other woman, who is bedridden now, is so talkative that it is difficult to give her food or drinks because her monologue can be unceasing, but, interestingly, when she loses the thread of what she is saying, she hums a tune. Here is an example:
“And I said to him, said to him, you go go go to the shop and … humming … And there is, is, is a … humming … (takes a mouthful of food) … Oh that’s good, and he said to me that it’s, it’s, it’s a one, two, two, two … humming … What on earth are you do-doing? It’s a very nice dress … humming … chuckling … Oh no, damn … chuckling (takes a mouthful of food) … You shouldn’t, shouldn’t do that … humming … How dare you! I’ll have to, have to do, do, do that … chuckling ….” And on and on this goes.
In my ‘shut up and listen’ mode there are all sorts of nonverbal ways of validating that what these two women are saying is important. I can nod, smile, laugh, hug, hold hands, shake my head and I can pretend to understand. And the ‘shut up and listen’ mode doesn’t mean you can’t say anything at all of course; it just means that you give the person with dementia the floor so to speak. I’ve found recently that one-word responses on my part are much more effective than attempts at coherent conversations. Exclamatory words seem to be particularly successful in eliciting smiles, laughter, pleasure. “Yes!” and “What?” and “Really?” and “Amazing!” and “Thankyou!” and “Please!” – accompanied always with suitable facial expressions – can be a gift to those with dementia who are talkative.
But what about those people for whom speech has become difficult (e.g. Anthony) or even non-existent? This is very difficult because, unless you are psychic, you cannot possibly know what that person might have said/wants to say/feels like saying but can’t. How do you listen to utter silence?
To be continued when I figure that last question out!