As a speech-language pathologist with a passion for geriatric care, I can’t help but notice how disenfranchisement of seniors seems to increasingly creep into our society. I see many seniors—both healthy and especially those with impairments—becoming more and more invisible in our fast-paced internet-driven world. Practically everyone has their noses buried in an iPhone or other device and face-to-face communication gets lost except for the FaceTime app users!
I think SLPs and other professionals in our field learn to respect an individual and how to provide compassionate care for other human beings. These valuable skills may not get taught to everyone. I especially regard the communication rights of individuals who lost their ability to participate as a “voice” in society due to neurogenic communication disorders.
Of all the patients with aphasia, Parkinson’s and dementia I treat, perhaps the most challenging aspect involves seeing the decline of the communication partnership between paid caregivers and an individual with language loss or confusion due to Alzheimer’s disease. Although these clients seemingly lose their identity, there’s still a person with a history of hopes, dreams, lives, interests and ambitions.
SLPs can improve caregivers’ relationships with dementia patients by devoting patient education hours to training the caregivers. The MESSAGE and RECAPS program developed by Liddle and colleagues summarizes some of the best tips in this domain:
E—Expressions and body language
S—Keep it simple
S—Support their conversation
A—Assist with visual aids
G—Get their message
E—Encourage and engage in conversation
Having trained caregivers to use this strategy, I feel it helps those who use it learn to talk with instead of at other individuals, regardless of their communication issues. SLPs can also train caregivers on what patient-centered care involves and how to incorporate it into their routines. Remembering to focus on person-centered care or treatment remains an important strategy for anyone working with patients of any age. Unfortunately, many patients with communication disabilities get ignored or overlooked due to a lack of cultural competence on best practices for working with these types of patients.
Social health remains one of the biggest drivers in wellness for people of all ages. However, without access to earnest and involved communication partners, our most vulnerable citizens become at risk of losing their self-identity as well as human connections. As an SLP, my goal is to provide the most creative and satisfying communication circumstances I can for my patients. I continue striving to demonstrate the outcomes effectiveness of even the most basic the strategies, which are often the most needed—and ignored—in our fast-paced world.
The Leader’s June issue offers more insights on treating patients with dementia:
Linda Carozza, PhD, CCC-SLP, is an adult neurogenic specialist and director of the communication sciences and disorders program in the Department of Health Studies in Pace University’s College of Health Professions. She wrote the book “Aging and Communication: Creative approaches to improving the quality of life.” She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders. firstname.lastname@example.org.