"But I didn’t order that!!!"
Travelling the somewhat (if there is such a thing) “non-touristy” parts of France has shed light on a very common problem for many people living with dementia - communication!
Unfortunately I cannot speak French and whilst luckily for me there are many English speaking French people, I am still experiencing the frustration I’m sure many people with dementia do when trying to communicate what they want and need. I also cannot read French, and when you’re at a French restaurant with a French menu and French speaking waiter, you’re bound to end up with something very “interesting” on your plate that you swear you never ordered!
Whilst my experience far comes close to what people with dementia experience, I like to think it has helped me to try and put my feet in the shoes of those with dementia experiencing language difficulties. We take spoken language for granted until we are put in a position where we can no longer use it effectively. For example, being in a foreign county where you cannot speak the language!!
MANY people with dementia can experience language difficulties; the part of their brain that recognises, interprets and expresses language may be affected. This can be both written and verbal language. What happens when you can’t understand what people are saying to you or express what you need? Generally frustration! The emotional center of the brain takes over. For people with dementia, this frustration can often express itself in anger, physical and verbal aggression, wandering, depression and anxiety/panic.
What have I noticed? The power of body language! I’m talking things like eye contact, body positioning and hand gestures (lots of pointing at baguettes at the patisserie!). When we are communicating with people with dementia with language barriers we need to put body language on a pedestal; it is so important! Some simple things to consider when communication with people with language difficulties include:
How often do you have a genuine chat to the barista that makes your coffee?
"Social isolation is the public health risk of our time" according to Susan Pinker who spoke at a TED Conference in 2017 about social integration being a significant factor in prolonging age and lowering our risk of developing dementia.
This week I'm heading to Sardinia, an Italian island just below Corsica and north of Tunisia, and so I wanted to find out a little more about it before I arrived - and, what better way than to listen to a TED talk about it (which is relative to health and ageing - my favourite topic! Winning!)
Sardinia; where men live as long as women (unlike the rest of the developed world) and there are more centenarians (people over the age of 100) compared to anywhere else in the world. There are 10x more centenarians in Sardinia as there are in North America per capita.. why?
Researcher and Psychologist Susan Pinker mentions in her TED talk (link below) that 25% of the reason why people in Sardinia live longer is genetics. The other 75% you ask? LIFESTYLE, and in particularly social integration! So what are they doing right? In her TED talk, Susan looks specifically at the town of Villagrande.
Firstly, the dense layout including small apartment style living and narrow streets with a village square means social connection cannot be avoided. Ageing Sardinians are never left to live solitary lives. Family regularly drop by to drop of fresh fruit and vegetables, the baker stops by to stay hello and the barista will have a good yarn in between making an espresso. Family members do not see it as a burden to look after ageing relatives, but rather a privilege.
As Susan says in her TED talk, "it is a biological imperative to know we belong." We need social connection and it seems as though without it, we are at higher risk of mortality.
A third of the population says they have two or fewer people to lean on and with the rise in social media and use of technology, that number is surely going to rise. But is connecting via technology a form of social connection you ask? Well, it may be.. BUT, studies looking at brain scans have shown that our brains respond differently when having face-to-face contact with people.
Think a different burst of neurotransmitters and "feel good" chemicals being released.
So, get off your phone and chat to the barista, the girl at Woolworths scanning your groceries, the man who walks past your house with his dog.. It's good for you!
To watch the TED talk click on the link below:
Brooke George, Occupational Therapist