Alzheimer’s and Speech Therapy

How does Speech Therapy help a patient with Alzheimer’s:

Research has shown that the skills that a speech language pathology promotes in an individual with Alzheimer’s dementia and their caregivers can make a large impact on day-to-day life. Furthermore, they can be involved at different times throughout the progression of the disease, to assess and make recommendations.

Receptive Language: involves comprehension of what is being said, following directions, and engaging with the environment. Through specific strategies and environmental changes, a person with Alzheimer’s can improve their ability to follow directions, answer questions, and use supports, such as visuals and partner support to engage in daily tasks.

Expressive Language: involves sharing through speech, writing, pictures/symbols, and nonverbal language (gestures, physical closeness). Speech Language Pathologists assess a person with Alzheimer’s abilities and preferences and provide strategies and support for their patient. Additionally, SLPs work with family members and caregivers on how to promote and provide opportunities for the person with Alzheimer’s to fully express their ideas, wants, and needs.

Swallowing Skills: involves analysis of swallowing, diet texture trials, compensatory strategy training, and caregiver education, as swallowing difficulties are common in Alzheimer’s disease.

Specifically, through the support of a speech language pathologist, a person with Alzheimer’s may improve their function and engagement in the following areas:

  • ADLs: A speech language pathologist supports their patient and caregivers in improved engagement during ADLs, including: choosing what to wear, following directions, and answering questions while dressing, grooming, and bathing. Additionally, the person with Alzheimer’s should be encouraged to express specific likes and dislikes in the process. Daily orientation and decision-making can be supported through the use of visuals/calendars/alarms/reminders. Communication and conversation: A speech language pathologist assists their patient, family members, and peers on how to best support the person with Alzheimer’s. Strategies, such as guided questions and modeling of verbal rehearsal, repetition, and asking a follow-up question can support an individual’s conversational skills. Strategies for specific naming skills can help as well.Leisure activities and hobbies: a person with Alzheimer’s may have a difficult time learning a new activity, however, they will likely continue to enjoy a lifelong activity or hobby, possibly with a few adaptations and partner support. The spaced retrieval strategy is an evidence-based
    • strategy to use with persons with Alzheimer’s.
    • Mealtimes: A speech language pathologist assists their patient, family members, and caregivers with ways to eat and swallow safely in different environments.

Article by Carrie Northway, MS CCC-SLP from our Zumbrota, MN Clinic.