Communicating with Loved Ones When They Can No Longer Talk

Several diseases can cause your loved one to lose the ability to communicate through speech.  This is a tragic and difficult event for both the senior and their family members.  However, you can learn new ways to communicate and show your love.

Causes of Speech Loss

A stroke that causes permanent damage to one side of the body can make speech difficult.  When the person tries to speak, it may not be understandable; therefore, they quit trying to talk.  This is the opposite reaction than what is recommended by doctors because continued attempts at speaking can help them get some of their speech back.

Illnesses such as Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia often affect speech in the late stages.  They forget how to talk or do not make sense when they try.  This can be frustrating for them and their loved ones.

A common reaction of family caregivers when their loved one cannot speak and may not even respond is to stop talking to them.  They feel uncomfortable with the silence when they visit their family member and may visit less often.

Ways to Communicate

Even though you may not think your loved one hears or understands you, it is still important that you continue to speak to them.  It is often said that hearing is one of the last senses to be lost even if there is no physical response.

What should you talk about?  Anything and everything you would have talked to them about when they could respond.  Discuss your day with them, talk about the grandkids, tell them what you see outside their window, or any of a hundred other things that would’ve interested them before.

Speak in a soothing, quiet voice and do not talk about anything upsetting.  For instance, if mentioning a certain person or event causes them to look tense or show other outward signs of distress, stay away from that subject.

Read to them when you visit – Pick a favourite book or read the newspaper if they used to do that when they were able to.  You might be surprised at how much they gain from this even if they are unable to respond.

Listening to music can also be soothing and take away the awkwardness you may feel when your loved one can’t talk to you.  Bring CDs of their favourite artists or songs to play while you sit with them.

The Power of Touch

One of the best ways to communicate with someone that cannot speak is through touch.  It shows them that you love them and helps you feel connected to each other.  Touching can be anything from a hug or holding their hand to a backrub or combing their hair.  You can put lotion on their arms or legs or just place your hand on top of theirs.

The need to feel someone’s touch begins in infancy and this need never diminishes.  In fact, it grows stronger in people that cannot communicate with their voices.  They feel vulnerable because they can’t say what they want.  Many times family members add to the feeling of isolation by ignoring them unintentionally.

For instance, when they go to visit their family member, they talk to other people instead of their loved one.  They don’t do this intentionally, but often people act as if the person that cannot talk also can’t hear or notice what is going on around them.

Tips for Communication

  • Pay attention to your loved one when you are talking.  Even though they cannot speak, they may show a reaction through facial expression or body tension.
  • Speak clearly and softly to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
  • Speak to them when you arrive and leave so they will know when you are there even if you are silent during much of the visit.
  • If you do not feel comfortable talking, make your presence known by touching them throughout the visit.

Loss of speech is distressing to families who miss the communication with their loved one.  However, do not give up on communicating with them; you don’t know how much they understand of what you say.

Carefect Homecare Services provides variety of services to help/assist your loved ones. Our services include assistance with personal care, light housekeeping, cooking nutritious meals, companionship and much more.  Our caregivers can stay with your senior family member and provide respite care to give you time to rest so you could continue to provide the emotional support your loved one needs.