5.3 - Verbal and non-verbal communication

Verbal and non-verbal communication

As previously mentioned, a large part of our communication is of a non-verbal nature and thus in the absence of verbal linguistic expression. Our body language, facial expressions, or how we meet someone else's gaze, all send signals to the recipient about how we relate to him and to the situation we are in. With body language we signal openness as well as distance, joy as well as sadness, we show our anger , irritation or abandonment. And if there is an ever so small contradiction between what we say and what our body signals, there is a great risk that our words will be perceived as meaningless or false.

There is some disagreement about what the actual distribution between the verbal and the non-verbal in a communication situation looks like. A common figure in terms of the percentage distribution is usually given to about 7 percent verbal communication and the remaining about 93 percent divided between non-verbal and paralinguistic forms of communication. By paralinguistic is meant the different types of phenomena and signals which in one way or another are connected to language but which are still not part of it. This includes things like voice strength, speech speed and how our emotions affect how we express ourselves. Exactly what the distribution looks like between verbal and non-verbal naturally varies with context, occasion and, for example, between different cultures. Age and social status are also important. On the other hand, there is great agreement that what we show with our body and suggest with our voice position is more important for how others perceive our message than what words we use.

In communication with people with dementia, knowledge of the significance of the non-verbal dimension is a vital part. Although both verbal and non-verbal ability to communicate deteriorate as dementia progresses, the universal need for interaction and reciprocity remains. On the other hand, the ability and the ability to express these needs often change in the same way as before, and as the language ability deteriorates, the non-verbal dimension therefore becomes even more important. Creating a safe and permissive environment that also stimulates interaction is therefore a key task for healthcare professionals, not least because people suffering from dementia often also suffer from behavioral changes which further limit the ability to express their needs in other ways than before.

This video shows how Naomi Feil reaches a person with advanced dementia with the help of song and touch. The method she uses is called validation.

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