Guest Blog: Interdepartmental Communication in Long-term Care

By Sarah Murray

While completing my Bachelor of Social Work from Wilfrid Laurier University, I had the opportunity to do my placement at the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research and a long-term care home. While I was at placement, I observed different types of communication between staff and residents. Doing so made me aware of how important effective communication is when working in these settings; this communication is verbal, non-verbal and written. Some barriers to communication in long-term care settings are lack of time to communicate, language barriers, disabilities and cognitive impairments. Communication in long-term care homes is essential to create a positive work environment for the staff and residents.

The nature of long-term care makes it hard for effective communication to take place; most workers are swarmed with work and have to manage a large caseload of residents. The residents of these homes all have their own unique individual needs that need to be addressed; there is no one solution when working with individuals who have cognitive impairments. Benefits of effective communication in the work place include; employee satisfaction, greater staff efficiency, and result in a positive team environment for both the staff and the residents of the home. There are also risks associated with poor communication; these include staff burnout, low staff morale, negative work environment and unmet needs of residents. When the resident’s needs are unmet it can create another wave of communication breakdown, due to responsive behaviors associated with unmet needs in dementia patients. These events can also intensify staff burnout and make the work environment less desirable.

Tips for communication for residents with Dementia (from the Alzheimer Society of Ontario):

  • Introduce yourself, instead of assuming the patient remembers you.
  • Be calm, friendly and communicate at their pace. (Sometimes vocalizing words is difficult for dementia patients, give them the time to pronounce the word)
  • Give instructions once at a time rather then all at once, and wait for a response
  • Maintain engaging open body language (crossed arms may indicate you are angry or annoyed)
  • If the resident repeats themselves, do not tell them so; instead act like it is the first time your hearing it
  • Never say “Don’t you remember” or correct their ideas
  • Do not change the tone of your voice when speaking to individuals with dementia and avoid baby talk

In 2010, 35.6 million people worldwide were living with dementia, a number that is expected to double in 20 years. (Statistics Canada, 2016) Hospitals and long-term care homes and community organizations will have their hands full to provide care to this aging demographic. The first skill needed to positively deal with this demand is communication, if this is done correctly many older adults and their families will benefit, as well as staff employed to work with this population.

When communication is perfect on every level, it creates an environment of trust and respect that allows people to maintain a sense of dignity and pride.

Sarah Murray completed her placement at the Centre for Elder Research while achieving her Bachelor of Social Work from Wilfrid Laurier University.

Wong, S. Gilmour, H. Ramage-Morin, P. (2016) Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in Canada. Statistics Canada.