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The Importance of Body language

People can pick up on our moods or how we are feeling, by the way we act, stand, or our facial expressions. We do it all the time without really thinking about it.

It was something I had to learn to be careful about when my husband was diagnosed with dementia. He had very poor communication skills and talked very little – BUT he was very aware of the tone of my voice and how I acted. Most of the time it was ok, but if I was feeling tired and irritable it was hard not to shout or snap at him. I would instantly feel sorry, but sometimes I couldn’t help it. Whilst Tom would not have remembered what I said 20 minutes after I said it, he would remember that I was not pleased with him and this would affect his mood. He would look at me in a way that told me he was confused or anxious. Sometimes he would say sorry, although he didn’t know what he was sorry for. I had to learn to try and keep my voice calm and remember to smile when I was talking to him.

I had to learn not to fold my arms or put my hands on my hips, as both of these give very negative messages in relation to my feelings. It was hard when I was tired or busy, and Tom would be standing looking at me because he didn’t understand what I was saying or was unsure of what he needed to do. I would try to remember to smile and speak slowly. I learnt that Tom was reassured if I took his hand, or gave him a hug. If he was sitting down I would sit down too, rather than lean over him as this also was reassuring. I had to remember never to appear to be in a rush or give Tom the impression that he was being a nuisance, not only because he would pick up on my irritation but because all it ever did was make him more unsure of what he was doing, more stressed, and take him even longer to put his coat on or whatever he needed to do. My daughter also told me that she noticed I would sigh if I was impatient with Tom - I hadn’t noticed it, but of course Tom did - so that was one more thing to remember not to do!

I found that it helped if I said to myself ‘remember no matter how tough this is for you it is far worse for Tom’. Sometimes just stepping out of the room and taking a few deep breaths with my eyes closed was enough to help. Or if I needed a few minutes, I would go and walk round the garden or just sit in a different room. I learnt that the best way of dealing with things was to give myself some time out.

What I also learnt to do was be kind to myself, caring for Tom was 24 hours 7 days a week. I couldn’t be Mrs Perfect all the time- no one can, even with the best intentions. We all have to learn that all we can do is the best that we can, and accept that some days we don’t manage as well as others.