Mindfulness and empathy
What are they?
Mindfulness and empathy represent a commitment to finding meaning in confused speech or behaviour through your understanding of the individual, their motives and their circumstances.
They constitute having an openness to ‘clues’ to meaning in speech, behaviour and their linkage.
This might involve being open to gestures that suggest distress or need, or repetitions that suggest that something is important, or fractured or unusual language that might be hinting at a particular target, rather like a cryptic crossword clue.
Why are they important?
Although it is often difficult (and sometimes impossible) to find meaning in confused speech, assuming that all speech from people living with dementia or advanced dementia is meaningless can isolate and alienate the individual, undermining their self-confidence having a self-fulfilling quality.
A mutually agreed consensus on meaning can often be arrived at – even if the main focus of concern may shift for the individual living with dementia.
A sense of communication is a validating and comforting experience for both parties. As with everyone, people living with dementia have the right to have reasonable desires satisfied where possible.
- Try to relax! Allow yourself to go with instinctive ‘feelings’ for what a person might mean.
- Bring an understanding of the individual to the process – for example, someone who is frequently hungry may often be referring to meals; someone who hates being confined may often be trying to find ways to express a desire to leave; a car mechanic might be given to lying under tables, etc.
- Bring an awareness of environmental and physical circumstances to exchanges – on hot days people will often want to ask for a drink!
- Time of day may also be an issue – some of us aren’t ‘morning people’; and some people with dementia have difficulty knowing what time of day it is.
- Those living with dementia may not adhere to cultural norms in many aspects of behaviour and their needs may best be met through a flexible approach and by respecting their individual wishes.
- Be aware of people’s history and preferences, and listen for key words and try to be receptive to what the person means.
- Problems apart from dementia might make it difficult for a person to understand, or be understood. For example, their eyesight, hearing or dentures may cause them problems. Make sure these are tested, and that glasses and hearing aids, if worn, work, and that dentures fit properly.