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HOW DOES COMMUNICATION AFFECT DEMENTIA?

Many people, including myself, have a loved one who has been diagnosed with dementia or is manifesting the signs of dementia. At one time, those dealing with senior care believed that there was little that could be done to help a person with dementia.

However, currently there is a lot more help available including medication and therapies including speech/language therapy. There will be times when a family has to decide that the best senior care for their loved one will be for the person to move to some type of assisted living where symptoms of dementia can be monitored.

There will also be families who decide to have a loved one remain at home and arrange for home care that will provide the person and family with needed treatment for the dementia. One of the first symptoms noticed is likely to be a problem with memory which is what happened with my mother. When her dementia increased, she had to move to an assisted living facility where her medications and daily activities could be monitored. As her disease progressed, it became very difficult to communicate with her which is the case with many people who have dementia.

As a professional, I have worked with people having dementia in both home care settings and in assisted living facilities. If a person is very forgetful, he/she might not be able to find specific rooms and labeling of rooms can be helpful. If there is trouble paying attention to conversation and responding appropriately, I would work with caregivers regarding the need to pay specific attention to what the person says because it is likely to convey some feeling, memory from long ago or something totally unrelated to the present. It can be frustrating to a person with dementia if conversation partners insist on getting them into the present. It doesn’t work. We need to validate what they say because they mean what they say. If listeners keep reorienting, it can result in the person becoming angry and even aggressive.

People with dementia become easily disoriented to time, place and person, might become easily lost (even in assisted living). Wandering away can become a big problem even in a protected environment. I have had some patients that were responsive to work with orientation issues of time and place and could learn to cue themselves by looking at a newspaper or watch. If there are problems remembering how to get dressed, brush teeth, etc I. I would make a written or picture schedule for my patient to use. There was one gentleman in assisted living who was quite elegant and used to travel. When he refused to do daily tasks, I would make him a schedule for each day so that it seemed as if it were a vacation schedule.

As a speech/language therapist working with dementia patients in home care or assisted living facilities, my role is to evaluate language skills to find the strengths that remain that can be used to build a treatment program. I will consider ways to help others understand what the patient says, ways to help he patient understand and follow directions and schedules. It is possible that making a memory book will be helpful for the patient to recall and talk about special people and activities.

If you have a loved one suffering from dementia, please visit www.ourcarecommunity.com for information and articles on dementia and other senior care issues.

Annie DiGaudio is a certified, licensed speech/language pathologist with over 35 years of experience including working with the senior population in the home, hospital, rehabilitation center and long term care facility.

For more information: dementia care & alzheimer's care

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