Five ideas & tips to enhance communication

Communication is central to our wellbeing: Five ideas & tips to enhance communication

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place.”

George Bernard Shaw


We are all communicators, however working as a speech and language therapist  means that I have an enhanced level of interest in the process of communication.

Most of us are fortunate to be around people for at least some part of our day.  Imagine what it must be like to not have anyone to communicate with, or possibly worse, not have the ability to make yourself understood or understand what is being said?

In my work as a speech and language therapist when working with people with dementia, I often wonder if their struggles to communicate can be likened to my struggles to construct sentences in French.  I can sometimes produce meaningful utterances if you give me lots of time to respond but rarely quickly enough as part of a fluent conversation. This leaves me feeling frustrated, stupid, sad all at once.

Communication is central to our well being.

Communication plays a fundamental role in maintaining and developing relationships. It is a two way process. It generally involves a minimum of two people interacting in turn taking.  Each person has to be both an attentive listener as well as a talker. We have to check out or monitor that what we are saying is being registered and understood.

If one person finds communication difficult, the other person has to attempt to bridge the gap and do more of the work. We have learnt over the years that there are some specific techniques that improve the communication process with people with dementia.

However, we must never lose sight of the fact that everyone is an individual who would have had different styles and skills at communicating prior to the onset of dementia and communication techniques are aimed at generalities rather than specifics.

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In this the first of two blogs I am sharing with you some of my ideas and tips to enhance communication with five more to be shared in next weeks blog in “lets talk about dementia”


Five ideas & tips to enhance communication

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  1. It is not just about words.

Non verbal communication is understood more easily than verbal. Pay attention to your non verbal communication (tone of voice, facial expression, gesture etc) and monitor your conversational partners non verbal messages closely.

  1. Location, location, location.

Ensure the environment is conducive to good communication. This means good lighting, reduction of noise and other distractions. Is the person wearing their hearing aids, glasses? Make sure you have their attention when speaking to them.

  1. Get to the point.

Keep sentences short and simple. Make one point or statement, allow time for that to be digested before speaking again. Avoid chattering to fill the gaps.

  1. Message understood?

Check that the person has understood and re phrase if they have not. Write down for them what they have been told if they are still able to read. People often think that a person is understanding more than is the case. This is because they maybe latching onto some key words and non verbal cues not the language.

  1.  Less is often more.

As a conversational partner, accept you need to do more of the work but do not try to over compensate by chattering, even if you think it is about a topic they would have previously enjoyed. One or two words backed up by visual content, for example, and allowing plenty of time for a response will be of more benefit

We would love to hear from you.

  • What suggestions and comments can you add to my initial 5 ideas?
  • What ideas do you have to enable you keep talking to someone who wants to keep communicating?



Joy HarrisJoy Harris
SLT,Clinical Lead for Dementia, Lothian

I work in East and Midlothian Psychiatry of Old Age teams seeing people with communication and/ or swallowing problems from the point of diagnosis of Dementia, and at any stage throughout the patient journey as the need arises.

A snapshot of what an allied health professional can do for you

 “People with dementia will have the opportunity to be included in community life and meaningful activities as they wish.  All services will give people with dementia the support they need, wherever they are living, to continue to be involved in their ordinary activities such as exercise, involvement in music, dance, social events and religious activity and to become involved in new activities and experiences”

This is a direct quote from the Standards of Care for Dementia in Scotland (2011) and reminds us all that people with dementia can be involved in everyday activities, both old and new.


The standard also states “services will give people with dementia the support they need”. In Scotland we invited my allied health professionals colleagues to share with us what they can do to support someone with dementia.  In this blog I am sharing a “snapshot” of how 5 of the allied health professions describe their role when working with people with dementia and their carers, partners and families.

Who are we?

Allied health professionals are registered therapists who can help when people are worried about their memory, if a person has a diagnosis of dementia or if someone in the family has dementia. They offer information, advice and treatment tailored to individual needs. They are experts in rehabilitation, focusing on strengths and assisting people to stay connected to their community and remain in their home for as long as possible. In no more than 50 words this is what they say they can do for you if you have a diagnosis of dementia or are caring for someone with dementia:

  • Dietitian – will help you to eat well
  • Occupational therapist – will help you take part in social activities, hobbies and interests that are important to you.
  • Physiotherapist – will help with physical activity
  • Podiatrists – will help you look after your feet
  • Speech and language therapists – will help you maintain everyday conversations


How can a dietitian help?

A dietitian can assess, diagnose and treat diet and nutrition problems at an individual level.  Uniquely, they use the most up to date public health and scientific research on food, health and disease, which they translate into practical advice to help people make appropriate lifestyle and food choices.


How can an occupational therapists help?

The occupational therapist can help people to continue to do as much as they can in their daily lives, offering strategies to allow people to participate in social activities, hobbies and interests that are important to them. They understand the link between occupation and good health. They can advise people on small changes to the home environment to make life easier, recommending the right type of equipment to meet a person’s needs from memory equipment to kitchen equipment.


How can a physiotherapist help?

A physiotherapist can help if the person has difficulties with walking; experiencing falls or feel they are unable to access the activities they enjoy.   They can provide the person with advice on, or offer an exercise programme to improve strength and balance, equipment to help walking and help with accessing community services.


How can a podiatrist help?

Healthy, pain free feet are important in maintaining mobility and enabling people to engage in a range of activities and be an active member of the community. NHS Podiatry services are available for people who have a foot problem or have a medical condition requiring podiatric intervention. (Personal foot care such as toenail cutting is not provided by NHS Podiatry services).


How can a speech and language therapist help?

Speech and language therapists are experts in communication and interaction and help people who have difficulty with everyday conversations. They are also experts in eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties. The speech and language therapist’s aim is always to enable a person to participate to their full potential in their chosen activities.

We are collating this information, with a description of how to access these professions into a leaflet that will be available in the Alzheimer Scotland resources centres, on our mini bus, available from our link workers and will be in our offices throughout Scotland.  However we are really interested to know, when living with dementia or caring for someone with dementia “what matters to you and how can we help?”

Elaine HunterElaine Hunter
Allied Health Professional Consultant, Alzheimer Scotland

My remit in Alzheimer Scotland is to bring the skills of AHPs to the forefront of dementia practice and to share with them the principles and practice of working in a major charity that is dedicated to “making sure nobody faces dementia alone”. I am leading the delivery of commitment 4 of Scotland’s Dementia Strategy. In short, a great job working with great people.