“Have you ever walked along a shoreline, only to have your footprints washed away? That’s what Alzheimer’s is like. The waves erase the marks we leave behind, all the sand castles.” – Pat Summitt
Basketball head coach Pat Summitt was diagnosed with early signs of Alzheimer’s at 59 years old. In her memoir, she wrote about the fight of her life.
Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the US. Every 65 minutes, someone in the US is diagnosed.
The disease causes many symptoms, and speech impairment is one of them. Yet this disease doesn’t have to stop you or your loved one from having a voice.
Here, we’ll explore speech impairments caused by Alzheimer’s and discuss how you or your loved one can find their voice once more.
What Is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is named after Alois Alzheimer, a doctor who noticed abnormal changes in the brain tissue of a deceased patient in 1906. It is a form of dementia, which is a term referring to impairment in cognitive abilities that affect daily life.
The disease is progressive and generally presents in older populations. It slowly deteriorates mental functions, impacting memory and cognitive skills.
Although uncertain, researchers believe this deterioration stems from genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.
When caught in its early stages, the chances of slowing the disease increase. Many of the symptoms can be managed. With help they can be minimized thanks to advances in research and medicines.
How Does It Affect Speech?
Two proteins, beta-amyloid and tau, become toxic to the brain. What results are tangles of neurons and built-up plaques that affect normal functioning.
In a normal brain, millions of neurons work together to communicate thought and action. The beta-amyloid and tau spread to other parts of the brain. The neurons die and the brain shrinks.
Usually, one of the first affected areas is the hippocampus, which is responsible for forming memories. This formation is linked to semantic understanding, allowing individuals to finish sentences and connect words to items.
When the brain deteriorates, language processing abilities deteriorate with it.
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, individuals have difficulties recalling words or finding the right vocabulary to share what they would like to say.
During this stage, there is oftentimes a loss of verbal fluency. Individuals may stutter, halt or find it difficult to finish sentences.
Verbal fillers, such as “um,” and slower speech occurs. Difficulties comprehending formal written and spoken languages also occur.
At this stage, the symptoms are mild. Individuals form sentences and express thoughts but not at the normal pace they once did.
During moderate to severe stages, symptoms are very noticeable. Your loved one may struggle to form simple sentences or understand conversations.
Slurring, stammering, repetition and use of incorrect words or phrases are common.
This is a difficult time for victims of the disease and their families. Encouragement, patience and optimism are vital.
In the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, loved ones may lose the ability to form coherent thoughts and speech. Individuals frequently repeat phrases they hear from others.
When speech occurs, it is oftentimes incoherent or illogical. Individuals sing, babble or say words unrelated to the situation and conversation.
Speech Impairment Therapy
Speech impairment therapy provides Alzheimer’s victims with the tools necessary to improve language functioning as much as possible.
To do this, speech-language pathologists form individualized treatment plans that focus on memory and language. These plans take into account your loved one’s current cognitive status.
The goal is to increase communication in all forms, including verbal, reading, gesturing and writing. It allows patients to perform at their highest ability.
But speech impairment therapy also has other benefits.
Benefits of Speech Therapy
In addition to encouraging optimal functioning, speech therapy offers important advantages that affect the individual at an interpersonal and intrapersonal level.
Slowing the Disease
New breakthroughs in group language intervention show speech therapy can maintain functioning and even improve language barriers associated with Alzheimer’s.
In a ten-week trial, individuals participating in a study showed either improved changes or no function changes.
Although this research is in its initial stages, the results are promising.
Quality of Life
Working on language and communication skills pays off. Individuals share their thoughts and needs as long as their condition allows. They learn to communicate in several different ways with caregivers, friends and family members.
Furthermore, speech therapy extends to loved ones. Language pathologists offer communication strategies for families and caregivers.
Access to support groups also lets individuals share their feelings with those in similar circumstances.
This greatly impacts the quality of life. It is easier for those with Alzheimer’s to explain their desires and loved ones to understand their needs.
One of the greatest benefits of speech therapy is its ability to help those with Alzheimer’s and their families with future obstacles.
The programs teach individuals and loved ones what to expect down the road. It also shows them how to address barriers that occur.
Common tactics families and loved ones may require later, such as appropriate swallowing and other forms of communication, make future obstacles easier to address.
Many people who suffer from Alzheimer’s feel as though they lose their dignity as the disease progresses. Speech impairment therapy gives patients confidence. It gives them a purpose and results.
This confidence encourages those with Alzheimer’s to continue friendships and attend social events.
Isolation is common in individuals suffering from the disease. With the aid of speech therapy, many learn to address these negative feelings. Avoiding isolation encourages positive emotions and personal well-being.