The journey that caregivers are on when caring for someone with Alzheimer’s/Dementia is full of mystery, self-doubt, and loneliness. This award-winning column offers a chance to reach out, seek new ideas, and by reading about the experiences of others, learn that you are never alone.
By Phyllis DeLaricheliere, MS
Communication breakdown in any situation leads to misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and emotional disconnect. Think of a time when you were not understood, when your audience took your emotions and interpreted them the exact opposite of what you were feeling and trying to express. Your frustration because of this situation also further fuels the breakdown. Now imagine you have dementia and everyone around you speaks from their JUDGE (their left brain) and you speak HIPPIE (from your right brain).
The Language of Judge: Your Judge is rational, analytical, linear, explicit, sequential, verbal, concrete. And 80% of our society is Left brain led. It’s our right versus wrong, fight or flight. The Judge tends to speak at a pace that even other Judges sometimes can’t keep up with.
The Language of your Hippie: Your Hippie is emotional, nonverbal, visual, intuitive, spontaneous, artistic, symbolic, and holistic. It’s where your empathy Sage lives and the side of your brain that colors outside of the lines. It was developed when we were young until our Judge was born and took over.
Two foreign languages, two sides of the brain, one person. With dementia, the Judge retires so the only language is Hippie. However, those around them are still speaking the language of the Judge so here starts our first immediate disconnect.
One of the skills when communicating with someone that does not speak your language is using body language, visual aids. With dementia, this works exceptionally well since they only understand 7% of verbal communication – 38% comes from the tone and the majority 55% comes from Non-Verbal communication – also known as body language.
Now, when we add verbal communication with those with dementia, it should be meaningful, slow, and one thought, question, or expression at a time.
So, this is how to speak to the Hippie side of dementia. For those living with the diagnosis many of them can no longer express verbally, comprehend the fast pace that evolves around them, nor distinguish between now, yesterday, or tomorrow. This can at times cause our loved ones or patients to experience frustration, fear, and feelings of anxiety. Since they cannot express themselves using their Judge language, the Hippie tends to express these fears and anxiety with physical outbursts, or heightened tones in their voices. Our Judge at quick glance reads this communication as aggression, abusiveness or anger. Consequently, diagnosing these emotions as BEHAVIORAL. It’s unfortunate, because it leads to a complete misunderstanding of emotions and communication, as a loved one is often left with no resolution and is in some situations medicated. They are NOT behavioral – merely communicating through body language, since their words and thoughts are failing them. In addition, this is NOT in their control due to the disease. We have an obligation to try to understand the language they are speaking. Ironic, as it’s a language we don’t have to learn, as we already possess it. We only need to learn to tap into it.
I never like to equate our dementia patients with children, however, for those of us that have raised them we remember when our two-year-old threw his/her first temper tantrum because they could not express what they wanted and used their body language to accentuate what they were trying to say – we did NOT label them as behavioral nor did we medicate them.
Our loved ones and patients on this journey of Alzheimer’s/dementia have the respective right to be heard and understood. They did NOT sign up for this. I would be frustrated and sad too if there were times I could not make sense of the world around me, to not remember and feel like no one could see me.
My challenge to us all: Take a NEW look at “behaviors” as communication and LEARN to speak/understand Hippie.
If you have a question, or want to suggest a topic…. Email me at email@example.com.
About the Author
Phyllis A. DeLaricheliere, MS is a sought after speaker/educator and is getting ready to publish her book: “Embracing the Journey: Knowing your Inner Hippie”. Her passion for finding solutions to the Dementia epidemic has turned into a crusade and she is humbled to be able to touch so many caregivers out there that she respects so much. To book her for a lecture or get on her pre-published waitlist for her book, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 802-999-7503.
Article reprinted from the October 2018 edition of the South Shore Senior News.
Phyllis DeLaricheliere is recipient of a 2018 National Award of Excellence for her columns on Senior Issues, awarded by the North American Mature Publishers Association.