Opinion

How to promote effective communication

When a patient's condition affects their ability to express themselves it is important to use different strategies to meet their needs, says Mandy Day-Calder 
Nurse advises a patient

With the importance attached to freedom of speech, it is easy to take voicing your thoughts for granted. But communication can be a challenge for many people.

Non-verbal gestures can help to establish a basic level of communication

Some conditions can affect everyday communication. For example, patients who have had a stroke, head injury or brain tumour may have difficulty speaking or understanding, as well as reading and writing. They may have aphasia. Other patients, such as those with autism, may struggle to interact socially and feel unable to express themselves.

Mutual understanding

The pressures of a busy working environment make it easy to misjudge someone who fails to respond quickly to questions or appears to ignore information or advice. But it is important not to jump to conclusions your patients difficulty with communication does not mean they are confused or reflect their intellectual ability.

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With the importance attached to freedom of speech, it is easy to take voicing your thoughts for granted. But communication can be a challenge for many people. 


Non-verbal gestures can help to establish a basic level of communication

Some conditions can affect everyday communication. For example, patients who have had a stroke, head injury or brain tumour may have difficulty speaking or understanding, as well as reading and writing. They may have aphasia. Other patients, such as those with autism, may struggle to interact socially and feel unable to express themselves. 

Mutual understanding

The pressures of a busy working environment make it easy to misjudge someone who fails to respond quickly to questions or appears to ignore information or advice. But it is important not to jump to conclusions – your patient’s difficulty with communication does not mean they are confused or reflect their intellectual ability.

Without the ability to easily verbalise thoughts or feelings, it is likely that your patient is feeling frustrated, embarrassed and alone, so try to look for different ways to understand their needs.

Working with your patient to establish a level of mutual understanding helps to reduce frustration and improve care and wellbeing.

Tips for promoting effective communication

•    Don’t be afraid to ask your patient what helps, or take advice from those close to him or her.
•    Try to minimise background noise and distractions and ensure you have your patient’s attention.
•    Use non-verbal gestures, such as hand signals, as they can help to establish a basic level of communication. 
•    Use short sentences and speak clearly but don’t put too much stress on particular words or speak too slowly or loudly. 
•    Use questions that can be answered with a single word or short phrase and, if offering choices, allow your patient time to respond.
•    If writing or drawing helps, ensure your patient has access to paper and a pen.
•    Consider writing down key points and use these to check understanding.
•    Make use of communication aids, apps and electronic devices.
•    Try to remain calm and relaxed and give your patient time – don’t finish sentences for them or assume you know what they mean.
•    Be honest. Show when you understand what is being said and also when you don’t – this will help build trust.
•    Be patient. It may take time to discover what works best. 

You can ask an occupational therapist or speech and language therapist for support, or contact one of the charities below for access to information, communication aids or support books. 
•    Aphasia Now www.aphasianow.org
•    Connect www.ukconnect.org
•    Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland www.chss.org.uk

Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach 

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