The dance of communication: Retaining family membership despite severe non-speech dementia


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Abstract

There is minimal research investigating non-speech communication as a result of living with severe dementia. This phenomenological study explores retained awareness expressed through nonspeech patterns of communication in a family member living with severe dementia. Further, it describes reciprocal efforts used by all family members to engage in alternative patterns of communication. Family interactions were filmed to observe speech and non-speech relational communication. Participants were four family groups each with a family member living with non-speech communication as a result of severe dementia. Overall there were 16 participants. Data were analysed using thematic analysis. One superordinate theme, Dance of Communication, describes the interactive patterns that were observed during family communication. Two subordinate themes emerged: (a) in-step; characterised by communication that indicated harmony, spontaneity and reciprocity, and; (b) out-of-step; characterised by communication that indicated disharmony, syncopation, and vulnerability. This study highlights that retained awareness can exist at levels previously unrecognised in those living with limited or absent speech as a result of severe dementia. A recommendation for the development of a communication program for caregivers of individuals living with dementia is presented.

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