As we celebrate the holy days of Easter and Passover, and Ramadan later this month, we are reminded of the diversity of faiths, cultures, and traditions that shape the life experiences of our patients. The more we know about these different cultures and traditions, the better we can understand and respond to our patients’ needs, especially patients with dementia. One common barrier to this understanding is language.
If you’ve ever traveled to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, you know how difficult it can be to get directions to a museum or order a meal. Imagine how frightening and depressing it would be if everyone around you spoke a different language, but instead trying to order a meal, you needed to communicate more vital information, such as the fact that you were in pain or very confused.
Below are some tips on how to communicate with and engage patients who do not speak English:
- If the patient has visitors or if there is a staff member who speaks the same language as the patient, they can be a valuable resource and can teach staff some basic phrases to use.
- Create communication sheets or flashcards with simple phrases in the person’s language (Good morning, Please join us, Are you in pain?, etc.) and hang them in the patient’s room for staff to use.
- Download a free translation application onto your phone to use when you or the patient have something important to communicate. There are apps that focus on medical terminology too.
- Be mindful of body language. If a person cannot understand your words, they will rely on your body language and facial expression to help determine your intent. A smile and open stance can be a good start to help put the person at ease.
- Take time to learn about the culture of the person, and invite family members to bring in food, music or simple activities from their culture to help your patient feel more at ease while in the hospital. If staff are involved, this can help build trust as well.
Have a great week!