Valentine’s Day may be over, but American Heart Month certainly is not! In our last blog post, we discussed healthy habits and useful tips for staying fit, well, and safe. No matter how many precautions are taken, however, there is always a chance that one may fall victim to illness or injury. While it is important to attempt to prevent any cause for concern, it’s just as essential to know how to recognize it.

As we grow older, it’s not uncommon that we experience changes in our perceptions and abilities. Things like recognizing and expressing pain are no longer necessarily commonplace. It becomes especially difficult to articulate concerns when an illness like dementia is involved. According to Teepa Snow, renowned occupational therapist and dementia specialist, those suffering from the disease “can no longer identify, describe, or isolate where the distress is coming from because wiring is missing” in their brains. Once unable to convey distress verbally (effectively, at least), nonverbal cues become extremely important.

Listening and observing are key components to recognizing a need for help:

“Early in the disease, the person probably can communicate feelings and problems in words; later, his or her behavior articulates what words cannot. If he is yelling or striking out, this can signify that he is in pain or has an infection and needs medical attention. Wandering can suggest boredom. Tears can suggest loneliness and the need for more activity and interaction with other people. When you stop, look, and listen, the person’s behaviors communicate many things.” –A Dignified Life: The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care

When deciphering messages from loved ones, whether suffering from dementia or not, be patient and empathetic. Really listen to them and focus on what they’re longing to tell you, as changes in “normal” behaviors or appearances can be indicative of something detrimental going on beneath the surface. Assume that agitation is a symptom of something significant, as are restlessness and anxiety. Be suspicious when your loved one doesn’t want to get out of bed or participate in daily activities. If it seems like something’s up, get it checked out; when it comes to our health, there’s no such thing as being too cautious.

The following link is a clip of Teepa offering examples of nonverbal signs of pain. She offers tips for deciphering what is said from what is actually meant when a loved one has a difficult time communicating needs.


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