Personal expressions

Personal expressions of experiences

by Sherry Dupuis, Gail Mitchell and Christine Jonas-Simpson (2012)

Persons with dementia reflect their experiences in the world (e.g., their interactions with the personal, social, or physical environment) in many ways, including through their words, actions, body expressions and gestures. These reflections of experiences can be intentional, reflecting something important to them or something they may be experiencing in the moment such as discomfort or pain.

The following principles are important to understanding personal expressions:

  1. All personal expressions (words, gestures, actions) have meaning
  2. Personal expressions are an important means of communicating meanings, needs, concerns
  3. Care partners view of others’ expressions

A personal expressions philosophy requires:

  • a focus on understanding the meaning of personal expressions (words, gestures, actions)
  • understanding the different aspects of personal expressions – including:
    • individual/personal level (subjective experience of the physical body, cognition, emotional experiences, spirituality, and cultural beliefs)
    • the experience of the social environmental (the nature of caring and interpersonal relationships)
    • the experience of the broader physical environmental (temperature, lighting)
    • developing skills in active listening, being truly present, and using alternative ways to communicate
    • being open, non-judgemental, and compassionate

Rather than the current focus on the disease as the root cause of all actions, words or gestures, a different view or approach assists partners in care in developing a broader and more comprehensive understanding of the person with dementia and his/her subjective experiences, the meanings of personal expressions (i.e., what the personal expressions are communicating), and how best to offer compassionate support (caring styles and approaches).