Non-verbal communication

What is it?

Non-verbal communication (NVC) involves using the face or body, consciously or otherwise, to convey meaning. It consists of a number of elements, which include:

  • eye contact and eye movement
  • gaze (direction and intensity)
  • facial expressions
  • touch
  • gestures with the hands
  • body posture and orientation (for example, sitting up straight, or facing a person you are speaking to)
  • use of the voice (tone, pitch, volume, intonation, speed)
  • vocalization (‘ums and ahs’, etc)
  • the way you dress and general bodily adornment

Why is it important?

NVC often carries as much information as verbal communication, and can have a profound effect on how we see, and are seen by, others. The ability to ‘read’ NVC tends to last longer than the ability to understand speech, perhaps because it precedes it in human development.

Impairment of hearing in older people living with dementia (a common problem that carers sometimes make too little effort to relieve or accommodate) can put an even greater premium on effective use of NVC.

Decoding facial expressions carries more importance for people living with dementia. Even people who have lost the ability to speak or to apparently understand speech can respond to facial expressions. Similarly, gesture can serve as a useful reinforcement to speech, and tone of voice can be especially reassuring (or threatening).