Caregiver Blog: Reading a Patient’s Facial Expressions and Gestures

Article Categories: Caregiver Tips and Tricks & Caregiver Skills

Crime investigation movies or TV series are always a hit. If you are a fan of this genre, you most probably enjoyed the scenes where detectives question the suspect, and a group of other investigators watches through a one-way mirror, listening to the probe while observing the suspect's body language. The accused can claim innocence, but nonverbal hints can say otherwise. It is so intriguing how the suspect's gestures can give them away.

Similarly, in healthcare, a patient’s facial expression and body movements can provide cues to their feelings, attitude, and mood. Getting valuable clues from a patient's body language is very helpful, especially when the patient is notably shy, hesitant, or uncommunicative. Caregivers who know how to read a patient's body language tend to be very good at their jobs because they can provide care more efficiently.

Here are some important signs to note in a patient and how a patient can express them with their body language:

1. Pain.

Caregivers must know if a patient is in pain even if they won't or can't say that they're suffering. Uncommunicative patients, such as those with advanced dementia may not be able to express themselves, but their body language can.

A patient will also likely avoid moving the body part that hurt. This instinct can result in muscle, nerve, and joint weakness in the long term.

It is important to remember that untreated pain can result in many negative consequences, such as high blood pressure. Hypertension caused by pain increases the risk for stroke or heart attack.

Watch out for nonverbal cues of distress like grimacing, guarding or protective gestures, moaning, sweating, restlessness, or reluctance to move.

2. Depressed mood.

A sick patient has a lot on their mind. They also experience various signs and symptoms of their disease. Physical and mental stress can take their toll, and the patient can drown in negative feelings.

Caregivers must recognize signs of a depressed mood such as tearfulness, hunched posture, and withdrawal. A gloomy patient will also avoid eye contact or have a faraway look. They prefer to be left alone and tend to stay in bed all day long. Depressed patients are likely to refuse food and activity.

When you note these signs in a patient, it is best to report your observations to the supervisor so that the patient can be examined further and get treatment if needed. Some mental health disorders lead to self-harm, which caregivers must prevent at all costs.

3. Disinterest.

Patients may show a lack of interest in what's going on around them. It helps to recognize signs of indifference in a patient because patient participation is crucial in the recovery process. Care procedures may not be as effective if patients do not do their part.

Take note of these nonverbal cues that show a lack of interest: turning their back on you, looking away, crossing their arms across their chest, and getting easily distracted.

A patient who couldn't care less about what you are saying would frequently glance at the time and usually fidget with something else. They would also likely yawn, rub their eyes or their temples.

4. Anger.

Anger is an emotion to watch out for in a patient because it can quickly escalate into aggression. An enraged patient can become verbally abusive or violent.

Caregivers must pay attention to signs of aggression to calm the patient down. They also need to be cautious and readily escape when the patient suddenly becomes a threat to life.

Even without saying a word, a patient can show with their body language that they're furious. Be on the lookout for furrowed brows, clenched teeth and fists, and a tensed jaw. An angry person is also likely to breathe heavily and pace.

5. Anxiousness.

An anxious patient is also a restless patient. Anxiety can spike a person's vital signs. It can lead to loss of appetite and lack of quality sleep. The stress hormones of someone worried are at an all-time high. This is why they also tremble, feel dizzy, and look panicky and tensed.

Caregivers like you need to know the nonverbal cues of anxiousness so that you can help ease their tension and provide comfort.

6. Danger signs.

Be extra alert for danger signs wherein the patient may be in a life-threatening situation.

If a patient is looking very alarmed, hunched, holding their neck, and unable to speak, they are likely choking. On the other hand, a patient who becomes unresponsive or is very difficult to wake might be losing their vital functions fast.

When a patient clutches their chest, has cold sweats, and is looking like they're in extreme pain, they may be having a heart attack. These patients need emergency medical attention.

They say body language doesn't lie as the tongue can. Caregivers who can 'read' their patients well can better care for their patients.


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