Many of you will have seen our production, Finding Joy. but did you know it was created from a true story? The characters of Joy and Danny are based on real people and it’s a love story really, between a grandson and his grandmother, who is living with dementia, At seventeen, the grandson decided to become his grandmother's carer and was a natural – he has the natural skills of acceptance, positivity, playfulness, and understanding of body language and tone of voice in reading someone’s mood. Inspired by this story, I wrote Finding Joy, which toured all over the world from Liverpool to London, China to Norway, Finland to Prague.
The Alzheimer’s Society came on the opening night and asked if I could make a training course based on the show. Of course, I said yes and created Listening with your Eyes (LWYE), which over the last 10 years has been delivered all over the country to professional carers in care homes, at conferences, to care home managers and for people caring for their loved ones at home.
Then came then pandemic, when carers had the toughest time, emotionally and physically. In response to its aftermath, we decided it was crucial to relaunch Listening with your Eyes, to provide much needed face-to-face training that helps support, empower and inspire carers.
So, what does Listening with your Eyes training involve?
LWYE explores how we communicate without words; with our eyes, our bodies, through posture, gesture and touch. It encourages empathy and empowers participants to understand how we can still communicate with people in late stage dementia or other conditions when words no longer make sense - through listening with your eyes.
Most importantly, the training is fun and experiential. It begins with laughter - laughter is powerful, it helps us breathe and build trust, it changes the energy in a room and people living with dementia can enjoy laughter. The training goes on to explore how we use our eyes. Little or no eye contact is very noticeable and it tells people that you're not interested. Whereas a flicker of eye contact can indicate that we're lying. Our eyes hold the truth and they are so important to use when caring for people living with dementia.
Then we explore how two people actually communicate. When two people are communicating face-to-face, we look at how much of the meaning is communicated verbally and how much non-verbally. Studies over many decades report that:
55% of communication is non-verbal (body movements, posture, gesture, facial expressions)
38% is vocal (volume, pitch, rhythm, emphasis)
Only 7% of communication is through the words that we speak.
So why is that important when caring for someone living with dementia? If we listen with our eyes, we can read how somebody is feeling, thinking even, but we also need to be really aware of what signals we give out, as we too can be read like a book. Lack of clarity can lead to conflict or cause frustration, especially for people living with dementia, when words often don't make any sense.
LWYE goes on to explore accepting realities, of joining in, getting on the tracks and accepting anything and everything. One woman came to me after the training and said that she'd always told her husband off for talking about the goblins in the garden - she wished she'd been to this training sooner so that she could have accepted his reality.
And touch. Many studies have been carried out on non-verbal communication, but much fewer focusing on touch. Some recent studies have found that seemingly insignificant touches yield bigger tips for waitresses - lots of times in these studies, people don't even remember being touched. They just feel there's a connection. A team led by the University of Illinois tracked physical contact between teammates during a basketball season (consider all those chest bumps, high fives, and backslaps). The study revealed that the more on-court touching there was early in the season, the more successful teams and individuals were by the season's end. Their results rocketed.
Tone of voice
We look at the way in which tone of voice completely changes the meaning of the words we speak, as does the pace, pitch and the emphasis of words or the pauses that we use in between them. With dementia, words loose meaning before the tone of your voice, so tone of voice is crucial.
And what's the feedback?
West Berkshire Council is offering Listening With Your Eyes to all their staff over the next three years, supported by the brilliant Ageing Creatively Programme at The Corn Exchange Newbury. The training began this year, and Sarah Salisbury, Service Manager to Care Homes and Shared Lives at West Berkshire Council, said, “We strive to provide our staff with the highest quality training and have really valued seeing the benefits of adding this creative, sensory approach to their learning. Many of our them have commented on the profound impact the experience has had on them, leading them to reflect on their practice and new ways they can adapt their approach. Ultimately, we really value the benefits we have seen this approach can have for our residents and people in the community we support who are living with dementia.”
In Worcestershire, we train junior doctors through Listening with your Eyes. Dr Catherine Kelly, Training Programme Director for South Worcestershire GP Speciality Training Scheme, comments, "Listening with your Eyes brought together everything a GP needs to practice medicine with humanity. LWYEs was engaging, fun, full of warmth and empathy and hugely relevant for GP training...our trainee feedback was exceptional."
Most importantly, this training celebrates carers and thanks them for the invaluable work that they do within our communities. It empowers people taking part with practical knowledge about non-verbal communication and builds confidence in how to use it.
If you would like to find out more about joining a LWYE workshop or booking one for your organisation, get in touch with our Health Connector, Hazel Ratcliffe. You can read more about the workshop and its learning outcomes here.
Rachael Savage, Artistic Director