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Tips on How to Interact and Communicate with Patients who have Mental Health, Learning or Language Disabilities
Posted on January 2nd, 2015

Mental health disabilities are not as visible as many other types of disabilities.  you may not know that your patient has a mental health disability unless you are informed of it.  Examples of mental health disabilities include schizophrenia, depression, phobias, as well as bipolar, anxiety and mood disorders

mental health disabilities.  A person with a mental health disability may have difficulty with one, several or none of the following:

  • inability to think clearly
  • hallucinations (e.g. hearing voices, seeing or feeling things that aren’t there)
  • depression or acute mood swings (e.g. from happy to depressed with no apparent reason for the change)
  • poor concentration
  • difficulty remembering
  • apparent lack of motivation

If someone is experiencing difficulty controlling his/her symptoms, or is in a crisis, you may want to help out.  Be calm and professional and ask your patient how you can best help. Treat a person with a mental health disability with the same respect and consideration you have for everyone else. Be patient.  Be confident and reassuring.  Listen carefully and work with your customer to try to meet their needs.

How to interact & communicate with patients who have intellectual or developmental disabilities.

People with intellectual disabilities may have difficulty doing many things most of us take for granted.  These disabilities can mildly or profoundly limit the person’s ability to learn, communicate, socialize and take care of their everyday needs.

As much as possible, treat your patients with this type of disability like anyone else. They may understand more than you think, and they will appreciate that you treat them with respect.  Don’t assume what a person can or cannot do. Use plain language and speak in short sentences. To confirm if your patient understands what you have said, consider asking the person to repeat the message back to you in his/her own words.  If you cannot understand what is being said, simply ask again.  Provide one piece of information at a time.  Be supportive and patient.  Speak directly to your patient, not to their companion or support person.

Learning Disabilities

The term “learning disability” describes a range of information processing disorders that can affect how a person acquires, organizes, expresses, retains, understands or uses verbal or non-verbal information.

 Examples include dyslexia (problems in reading and language based learning)

dyscalculia (problems in mathematics)

dysgraphia (problems in writing and fine motor skills).

It is important to know that having a learning disability does not mean a person is incapable of learning.  It means that they learn in a different way.

Learning disabilities can result in different communication difficulties for people

they can be subtle, such as difficulty reading, or more pronounced.  They can interfere with your patient’s ability to receive, express or process information.

You may not know that a person has a learning disability unless you are told

tips on how to interact & communicate with patients who have learning disabilities.

When you know someone with a learning disability needs help,  ask how you can help.  Speak naturally, clearly, and directly to your patient. Allow extra time if necessary – people may take a little longer to understand and respond.  Remember to communicate in a way that takes into account the customer’s disability.  Be patient and be willing to explain something again, if needed.  Some people have problems communicating because of their disability.  Cerebral palsy, hearing loss or other conditions may make it difficult to pronounce words or may cause slurring or stuttering. They may also prevent the person from expressing themselves or prevent them from understanding written or spoken language.

Speech or language impairments. 

Don’t assume that because a patient has difficulty speaking that they have an intellectual or developmental disability as well. Ask your patient to repeat the information if you don’t understand. Ask questions that can be answered “yes” or “no” if possible. Try to allow enough time to communicate with your patient as they may speak more slowly.  Don’t interrupt or finish your patient’s sentences –  wait for them to finish.

Tips on talking to patients with disabilities over the telephone.

Speak naturally, clearly and directly.  Don’t worry about how the person’s voice sounds.  Concentrate on what they are saying. Don’t interrupt or finish your patient’s sentences.  Give your patient time to explain or respond.  If you don’t understand, simply ask again, or repeat or rephrase what you heard and ask if you have understood correctly.  If a telephone patient is using an interpreter or relay service, speak naturally to the customer, not the interpreter. If you encounter a situation where, after numerous attempts, you and your patient cannot communicate with each other due to the patient’s disability, consider making alternate arrangements.

A trip to the dentist should be a positive experience for all patients regardless of whether they have a disability.  Start practicing these helpful tips when dealing with patients with disabilities and you will be ready to make your patients’ dental experience as seamless as possible. For more information on compliance with Ontarians With Disabilities Act, send and email to sandie@dentalofficeconsulting.com with your inquiry.

Author: Sandie Baillargeon

 

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