8.06.2016 Language, Speech and Alzheimer’s by Mary Yamin-Garone
Good afternoon. Welcome to Demystifying Alzheimer’s. I’m your hostess Mary Yamin-Garone.
Today’s topic is language, speech and Alzheimer’s.”
Communicating our needs, wishes and feelings is vital. It not only helps us maintain our quality of life, it also helps us preserve our sense of identity.
Communicating gradually gets more difficult for someone with Alzheimer’s. They may struggle to find a way to express themselves or forget the meaning of words and phrases. As the disease progresses, your loved one may start using non-verbal means of communicating, such as gestures, facial expressions and touch.
Here are five things you should know about how Alzheimer’s affects language and speech.
Alzheimer’s Disables Communication
Anyone caring for an Alzheimer’s sufferer knows that communicating with them isn’t easy. Each stage of the disease offers its own unique challenges when it comes to speech and language. During the normal aging process many of us forget words. In the case of Alzheimer’s, it’s more than that. Sufferers’ speech patterns get increasingly more difficult to understand and they often make up words or phrases when they can’t remember the correct or familiar ones. As the disease progresses, dealing with these challenges becomes more frustrating—for the individual and the caregiver.
Normal Aging or Something More?
Alzheimer’s sufferers experience more bouts of forgetfulness than normal people over age 60. This forgetfulness, however, profoundly impacts their language, including their ability to speak and communicate. The first sign this is happening is when sufferers have trouble finding the correct word or words. Individuals need more time to process their thoughts, prepare a response and then verbalize it.
A Language All Their Own
Having difficulty speaking becomes more pronounced in the mid- and later stages of Alzheimer’s. Individuals talk in a kind of gibberish or a language all their own. In their mind, however, they’re using the right words. Their sentences become short and unclear and their speech resembles more of a babbling, similar to that of a child.
What Is a Caregiver to Do?
Caregivers and family members must employ different means of speaking and communicating to the individual. Language is less effective, especially in the later stages of the disease. Eliminate as many distractions as possible when talking to an Alzheimer’s sufferer. That includes shutting off radios and televisions. They are better able to focus on you and what you’re saying if there’s nothing else vying for their attention. Maintain a friendly tone of voice. Talk slowly and deliberately. This helps them hear and absorb your words. Face the person when speaking and always maintain eye contact.
Frontotemporal Dementia or Alzheimer’s?
Occasionally, another form of dementia causes speech impairment. An individual’s difficulties speaking may be the result of frontotemporal dementia, a rare disorder that preys upon the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Impairments vary from limited speech to completely losing the ability to speak. In extreme cases individuals become mute. Other symptoms of frontotemporal dementia include mimicking others’ words, stuttering, problems holding their train of thought or participating in a conversation for extended periods of time. The ability to read and write also deteriorates.
Language in the Early and Mild Stages
In the early stages, someone with Alzheimer’s may have trouble finding the right word. Often people in this stage are aware that something is amiss, although they may not be sure what’s wrong. As a result, they may shy away from situations where they feel put on the spot or vulnerable to embarrassing mistakes, such as in social outings, time with friends, even telephone conversations.
In the mild stage of the disease, conversations with your loved one become more challenging. Finding the right words to express what they’re feeling becomes increasingly more difficult. As a caregiver, you must continue to act as a resource and help them express themselves.
Coach and cue:
- Set the mood for interactions with your loved one. Try a calm, gentle, matter-of-fact approach. Your relaxed manner can be contagious.
- Look directly at them and make sure you have their attention before you speak. If you can’t get their attention, wait a few minutes and try again.
- Talk in positive terms. Limit the number of “don’ts” and avoid giving harsh or direct orders.
- Try not to finish sentences for someone with Alzheimer’s. This can be embarrassing for them. Give them time to communicate and find the right words. If and when the appropriate words aren’t forthcoming, gently suggest what your loved one might want to say. Often the person with AD will look to you for help. Try to help them before they give up in frustration.
- Speak slowly. If necessary, repeat what you said using different words or shorter sentences. Look for feedback in their body language and facial expressions.
- Never use a condescending tone of voice when you’re speaking. It can provoke anger. It’s difficult to be patient when communicating this way. Remember, communicating properly reveals respect and helps maintain your loved one’s dignity. When you’ve “lost it,” however, apologizing will demonstrate your respect.
- Ask simple questions that require a yes or no answer rather than open-ended questions. Instead of saying, “What would you like to wear today?” you could ask, “Do you want to wear the green shirt or the red one?” or “This dress looks good on you. How about wearing it today?” An interest in the choice of clothing may remain long after your loved one can’t choose for themselves so keep them informed with words like, “This is what you’ll wear tomorrow” or “This will be a perfect outfit for what we’re doing tomorrow.”
- Don’t treat someone with Alzheimer’s as non-existent when communicating in a group. Let the person respond and don’t answer for them. This is especially important at doctor’s appointments.
Express your feelings:
- Don’t be afraid to share your feelings with your loved one. It lets them know that you still need them and value their thoughts and opinions.
- Express your feelings to help you release tension and help comfort the person. This is especially important after you’ve been angry or frustrated and have “lost” it with them.
- Be positive, optimistic and reassuring. Use expressions like “Everything will be OK,” “Don’t worry” or “You’re doing great.”
- Avoid discouraging your loved one from talking about difficult or emotional subjects, such as dying. Don’t reject or dismiss feelings by saying, “That’s not going to happen.”
- Use the person’s name instead of referring to the individual with Alzheimer’s as “he” or “she.”
That’s all for today. Thanks for listening. I hope you found this information helpful.
Join me next time for more about language, speech and Alzheimer’s.