Speech Therapy for People with Alzheimer's or Dementia

Updated: a day ago

What is dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe the symptoms which occur as a result of damage to the brain caused by certain diseases or small strokes. Dementia is progressive, which means that over time, symptoms will deteriorate. The rate at which dementia will deteriorate depends on which type and at what stage a person’s dementia is at. Severity will depend on:

  • The individual.

  • Lifestyle.

  • Adherence to medication.

  • Type of dementia.

  • Age of onset.

  • Other medical conditions.

Dementia mainly affects men and women over the age of 65, however occasionally younger people can have dementia.



Types of dementia

There are many different types of dementia. Some of the most common forms of dementia include:


Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer's is the most common disease to cause dementia. Short term memory problems are the early signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.


Vascular dementia

Vascular dementia is when the oxygen supply to the brain can be disrupted leading to some of the brain cells dying.


Lewy bodies dementia

Lewy bodies dementia is when abnormal cell structures develop in the nerve cells.


Fronto-temporal dementia

Fronto-temporal dementia is when personality and behaviour changes are most noticeable and problems start in the front of the brain.


What causes dementia?

The cause of dementia is damage to the brain; there are many different diseases that can cause this damage. The most common cause of dementia is old age.


How is dementia diagnosed?

Dementia is diagnosed by a medical professional, working within a multidisciplinary team and will take many different aspects into consideration. It may take a few assessments until a final diagnosis is given. The speech and language therapist plays a key role in assessing, identifying and treating individuals with dementia.


After initial diagnosis, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) must first obtain a detailed, heightened awareness of the daily challenges against which the individual with early stage dementia is battling. His or her initial loss of independence can be overwhelming. Struggles in the early stage may include but are not limited to denial; depression; short-term memory loss; paranoia; repetitive question asking; and changes in sleep patterns, smell, and taste. Persons with early stage dementia also experience difficulty with visual perception, word retrieval and semantic memory, way finding, driving, executive functions, and financial and medication management.


What problems caused by dementia can speech therapy help with?


There are many different problems which are caused by dementia which speech and language therapy can help with. Our speech and language therapists can help individuals who have dementia with attention and listening problems, communication problems, swallowing difficulties, voice and speech problems.


Speech and language therapy can improve any aspect of a patient's communication difficulties caused by dementia, it may also improve the coping strategies for the patient to support independence and confidence of the patient.


How does speech and language therapy help dementia?

Speech and language therapy helps people who suffer from dementia. Speech and language therapists can offer help and advice on language, communication, information processing, memory, as well as eating, drinking and swallowing guidelines. Speech and language therapy can include assessment and advice as well as support for the individual and their family.

What would speech and language therapy treatment for dementia involve?


There are many other approaches that may help dementia depending upon the individual and stage of the dementia. Some of these methods may be discussed in an initial appointment with the speech and language therapist.


Speech and language therapy treatment for dementia will involve a tailored speech and language therapy program and will take into account the severity of the dementia. Speech and language therapy for dementia may involve assessment, reports, reviews, therapy programs, support groups, advice and education.


The widespread question, "Can dementia patients learn?" remains a hot debate among cognitive clinicians, including speech pathologists, occupational therapists, neuropsychologists, and physicians. An SLP's assessment of new learning capacity is comprehensive and therefore yields development of a clinically appropriate and effective treatment plan. Because early stage dementia appreciates some new learning ability, the door remains open for a multitude of traditional as well as advanced cognitive treatment procedures and compensatory strategies.


An SLP manages dysphagia in persons with dementia via use of compensatory techniques categorized as the following:


• management of cognitive challenges during mealtime: environmental modifications and alertness, attention, and behavioral modifications; and


• management of cognitive-based dysphagia: oral acceptance, oral apraxia, and oral preparatory compensatory techniques and adaptive equipment.