How Speech-Language Pathologists Assist Those with Dementia and Alzheimer’s

How Speech-Language Pathologists Assist Those with Dementia and Alzheimer’sMemory loss, difficulty communicating, and confusion are hallmark symptoms of dementia. Contrary to popular belief, dementia is not a disease, but a group of symptoms characterized by declining memory and other cognitive skills severe enough to impact daily living. There are multiple conditions that fall within the spectrum of dementia - the most common being Alzheimer’s.

It’s not easy to see a loved one’s memory fade or their thoughts become disorganized. But, there are a variety of medical professionals who can assist those with dementia, including speech-language pathologists (SLPs).

A Speech-Language Pathologist’s Role in Assisting Those with Dementia

The SLP’s role is not to cure dementia, but to facilitate, according to Jill Grogg, CCC-SLP, an SLP at the Speech-Language Institute (SLI) and a Certified Dementia Practitioner.  

SLPs can assist individuals with dementia from beginning to end stages and at various levels of its progression. They can help identify strengths and deficits in cognitive, communication, speech, language and swallowing abilities. SLPs can also provide customized treatment plans, focused on quality of life and independence.

 “Many people are not aware of our training, and in the many ways SLPs’ expertise and knowledge can empower this population in all stages,” Ms. Grogg said.

Treating Dementia at the Speech-Language Institute

How Speech-Language Pathologists Assist Those with Dementia and Alzheimer’sSLI takes a comprehensive approach when working with clients who have dementia, their loved ones and caregivers. First, the client’s current level of functioning must be determined using various assessment tests.

“SLPs determine deficits and strengths and stage those abilities on a rating scale,” Ms. Grogg said. “Areas that are assessed include memory – short term, long term, working memory – language skills and cognitive skills, as well as swallowing abilities.”

The SLP also consults with the client and their loved ones/caregiver about the difficulties they experience during daily living situations. After determining the individual’s abilities and how progressive the dementia is, the SLP creates a treatment plan, which utilizes the client’s strengths to facilitate their difficulties. 
Many times, as the stages progress, there can be behaviors associated with the disease SLPs can address, but ultimately, it comes down to difficulty communicating in the later stages. At the end stages of dementia, even if the client is nonverbal, SLPs can diagnose, treat, and provide strategies for swallowing difficulty and provide assistance for end of life issues with the client’s loved ones and caregivers.

When to Contact a Speech-Language Pathologist if Your Loved One Has Dementia

At times, people may brush off lapses in memory and relate it to aging, but memory problems that disrupt daily life should always be taken seriously. If you or your loved one experiences difficulty maintaining conversations, forgetting words, significant memory loss or confusion, following simple directions, or problems managing daily living situations, an SLP should be contacted for an evaluation.