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Communicating by Touch with Dementia

This video clip describes how to touch a person with dementia without raising their anxiety or disrespecting their wishes (time: 1 minute).

For most people, touch is a normal mode of communication that is commonly used, frequently serving as a means to offer comfort to another individual. In most cases, for those on the receiving end of the touch, it is an inviting way to be comforted. A light touch on the arm, a gentle hug, a quick pat of the hand, all of these ways of touching another can be reassuring, making one feel loved and safe. However, for those who suffer from dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease or Lewy body dementia, touch may not be a welcome and desired mode of communication. As a result, it is very important to know when it is okay, and when it is not okay, to communicate by touch with someone who is suffering from dementia.

When approaching someone with Alzheimer’s disease, one should extend his or her hand to the individual, waiting for a response from the patient. This will help one to gauge whether or not that individual is open to their touch. After all, unwelcome touching of an Alzheimer’s patient can create distress, anger and / or irritation, causing more harm than good. If the person with dementia refuses one’s outstretched hand or appears to take the hand momentarily, only to brush it away, it is important not to touch this individual, as he or she is demonstrating they are not receptive to touch. In contrast, if the individual with dementia accepts one’s outstretched hand, it shows he or she is open to touch as a means to comfort, and one should use touch as a means of communicating.

Reading the response of an individual with dementia to an extended hand, and in turn, responding appropriately by respecting their wishes (touch versus not being touched) is very important. After all, some Alzheimer’s patients respond very well to touch, while others simply do not.

This video clip describes how to touch a person with dementia without raising their anxiety or disrespecting their wishes (time: 1 minute).

Learn how to understand non-verbal cues and how to use touch to connect with a person with dementia.