Ambassador Series: Helping People Communicate

In the second installment of our Ambassador Blog Series, we meet Madame Ambassador Allison Crook. Allison is a speech pathologist who has dedicated her career to working with patients with dementia as well as educating others about dementia and related diseases. In her first post, Allison — or Captain Communicator — relays some helpful communication tips.

My superpower is helping people communicate. When someone hears I am a speech language pathologist they automatically assume I work with children. ┬áParents will tell me stories of inclusion classes with a “child with autism” and ask questions about how therapy works in the school districts. Other therapists start talking about their 100-plus child caseload at multiple schools and lengthy individual education plans. And, while I am vaguely familiar with their sentiments, I work in an entirely different field.

I have practiced my profession in a variety of settings. IΓÇÖve worked with preemies struggling to develop their cognition to centenarians fighting its decline, but from an early age I was drawn to the elderly. I knew they had wisdom to give and I was eager to listen and learn.

The main focus of my work with patients with dementia has been the education of their caregivers, whether it is a family member or a nursing home assistant.

As a therapist I instinctively want to “make my patients better”, and while I canΓÇÖt reverse or eliminate AlzheimerΓÇÖs disease or other forms of dementia, I want to, in the very least, help my patients and their families develop strategies that will aid them when certain aspects of the diagnosis arise.
Each patient has different symptoms and therefore different strategies are needed.

Here are some general tips on communication with a person with dementia:

1. Make eye contact and call the person by name

2. Avoid the use of pronouns (he, she, they); be specific

3. Slow down your rate of speech

4. Be aware of tone of voice and body language

5. Use gentle touches to hands or arms

6. Use simple, step by step instructions

7. Simplify information by giving choices or asking yes/no questions

8. Allow time to process instructions or questions; repeat if necessary

9. Decrease distractions in environment during conversation or important tasks

10. Encourage conversations on both past and current events.

11. Jump start the conversation if they lose train of thought. For instance, ΓÇ£You were telling me about …”

12. Use memory books or visual aids
There are also a couple things that one should avoid when communicating with a person with dementia:

1. It’s never a good idea to argue or try to reason with someone who is easily upset. Distraction is a good method to use if they become agitated during conversation.

2. Remember not to talk about the person as if they are not present.

I hope you have found these tips to be useful!

Always here to help,
Allison Crook, M. A., CCC-SLP

AlzTex Admin

The Alzheimer's Association Houston & Southeast Texas Chapter (www.alz.org/texas) consists of families, caregivers, scientists, health professionals, and concerned citizens who are committed to finding a cure for Alzheimer's Disease and to easing the burden of Alzheimer's Disease and related disorders on patients and their families and loved ones.