Understanding the Importance of Body Language in Caregiving

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From a very basic perspective, one of the first types of language that we learn to recognize, process and understand as human beings is body language. Young children and aging adults often rely on nonverbal communication more than anything else. With regard to the later stages of life, this becomes especially impactful when considering caregiving for loved ones living with Alzheimer’s / dementia. What we may consider to be simple or slight changes in facial expression or posture may be perceived completely differently by our loved ones.

So, as a caregiver, what exactly do you need to be mindful of when it comes to perfecting the art of body language?

  • Maintain eye contact: Make sure that you’re giving your loved one the proper attention when they’re trying to engage with you. If you look away or attempt to hold a conversation with your back turned, then they’re losing out on the experience. Maintaining eye contact can also help you to gauge your loved one’s energy, feelings and reactions.

  • Monitor your facial expressions: Often times when we’re speaking with others, we may make simple facial movements like furrowing or raising a brow, rolling our eyes or twisting our mouths. These tend to convey specific emotions. It’s important to remain aware of what your facial expressions are suggesting; especially when this becomes your loved one’s primary method of understanding your “words”.

  • Talk with your hands: Being demonstrative can help your aging loved one to better understand what you’re trying to communicate. Be as deliberate as you can be when gesturing, while remaining calm and fluid. Frantic actions can cause nervous reactions.

  • Use your sense of touch: Touching is a very powerful form of nonverbal communication; just be sure to respect boundaries. A gentle hold of the hand, pat on the back or a warm hug can function to show your aging loved one how much you care. Conversely, if you offer a less than loving embrace, they may read that as negative energy which could alter their mood and perception of your actions.

  • Be mindful of your posture: Do you pay attention to how you present yourself when providing care for and interacting with your aging loved one? Be sure to offer an open posture - face forward and have your chest up while trying to remain aware of not crossing your arms or slouching.

  • Put your phone away: If you’re texting or playing a game on your phone, then this can indicate that you’re not interested in engaging with your loved one and may lead to feelings of anger and frustration. However, we’re really talking about being aware of all distractions that may suggest disinterest and a lack of investment in the relationship. Physical movements like bouncing your leg or tapping an arm rest can also imply that you’d rather be elsewhere.

The best way to be around an aging loved one as a caregiver is to smile, be your true & authentic self, and to embrace the time that you have. Are there certain types of body language that you have engaged in that have led to feelings of despair in your loved one?

CareZare is a FREE app for family caregivers to help them manage their care team and ensure the highest level of care for their loved one.

Logan Wells