Inviting One into Expression

I had heard this phrase but never fully understood it, nor did I  follow up until recently. There it was in a Ted Talk.

Narrowly defined, it is about reaching out to those who are non-verbal such as folks with Alzheimer’s or dementia. The concept gives verbal folks a way of connecting. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

We often try to engage non-verbal people with a question to get them to recall a memory. “Do you remember how much fun we had on the beach during our summers together?” They can’t – we ask the impossible after their non-verbal stage is well established.

We are learning that non-verbal people often have many ways of connecting that we miss or don’t give them time to show us.

Inviting one into expression is about asking open-ended questions without a right or wrong answer. Waiting, for sometimes what we can feel strongly as, a painfully long time. Then sometimes, something clicks, and they act.

An example from the Ted Talk references a non-verbal man living at home with a caregiver. The “expression” person arrived, new to the scene. She knew he liked walking along the shoreline of a nearby lake. After the pleasantries, she asked him, “How does water move?”

If we were asked such a question, we might be inclined to respond with rudery -if that is a word.

But after a relatively long silence, he stood up slowly and went to his collection of driftwood pieces on the counter. He picked a bit up and slowly moved his hand with the wood in a wavelike fashion. This developed into engaging the other arm and eventually moving his whole body with his wave.

It looked similar to modern dance, artistic and mesmerizing.

I won’t spoil the “expression” lady’s work of putting on a play to a paying audience in a care home of Homer’s Odyssey. It is worth clicking on the link below.

Please give this a bit of a think. First, If you have a relative, friend or patient you provide care to, can you think of a question to ask that might have a similar effect as the water question? Refer to this as “the beautiful question.” It might take some time and effort to frame this but invest that time and see what happens.

Second, I thought that I didn’t want to wait for the time to have non-verbal people in my life. I’d start practicing now. It takes reaching out. It takes listening. And it takes a dose of wonder and curiosity.

For me, the key is to be genuinely interested in the response, including my verbal friends. It often leads to the most exciting rabbit holes!

I’m curious about your thoughts. Please share your bit of a think below.

Thanks to Ted Talk for inspiring this Blog.

Photo by Cheryl Winn-Boujnida on Unsplash0

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And my thanks to St. Albert Seniors Association: 780-459-0433 for making this Blog possible.

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6 thoughts on “Inviting One into Expression

  1. Patti Dolman says:

    I suppose another term would simply be “effective communication “; if the recipient understands what I’ve said and responds in an appropriate way we have effectively communicated. So ok the new catch phrase is ” Expression” . It takes a person who has patience, sensitivity and to a certain degree a clever imagination to draw out the inner most thoughts from someone suffering from dementia/altzeimers. Those same strategies are valuable when trying to calm a 3 year old during a supermarket tantrum.
    The brain is an amazing complex organ and much research is underway to ideally offset these “ageing diseases”. I’m happy to say that I’ve passed the Mini-Cog test. I was successful in recalling three words after drawing a picture of a clock.
    I hope and pray that should I fall ill to either of these insidious diseases, my children or grandchildren will have the patience and understanding to be able to help me express myself.

  2. Andy says:

    We all are a little bit of everything
    A little hard of hearing
    A little slow of speaking
    A little slow of thinking
    A little slow of movement

    And just because of above we still have things to offer

  3. Don Hamaliuk says:


    I can see the message, but the writing’s too small
    I have some glasses, but where are they now?
    Are they upstairs or downstairs, or a pocket in my coat
    My wife thinks it’s funny, but I think it’s no joke

    I can hardly wait, till she gets to my age
    Then maybe she’ll know why, I’m in such a rage
    Why so many things, are so aggravating to me
    Seems very trivial, but that’s what I now see

    If you try to reason, that it should not matter much
    That I’m losing my mind and growing out of touch
    Well that may be so, but have mercy on me
    My mind’s not as sharp as it always should be

    The older you get, the more chances for you
    That all those small things, will cause you to stew
    You might think that’s crazy and how could it be so
    But if you live long enough, that’s how it might go

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