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SLPs' Role in Treating Alzheimer's Disease

Speech-language pathologists are an integral part of the treatment process for persons with Alzheimer's disease (AD). AD is the most common cause of dementia, a syndrome of gradually worsening cognitive impairments that interfere with social, occupational, and daily living activities. Approximately 3-5 million persons are thought to have AD currently and it is estimated that over the next 20 years, that number will jump to14 million, with 10% of persons over 65 and nearly 50% of persons over 85 being affected. At this time there are no known treatments for stopping or reversing the effects of the disease, but several medications are thought to slow down the progression of symptoms.

Behavioral interventions, such as the use of written cues, environmental modifications, and memory and cognitive training, improve some of the more challenging problem behaviors of the person with AD.

Speech-language pathologists have developed multiple strategies to train family members and caregivers to communicate effectively with persons with dementia and compensate for some of the challenges of memory impairment. Some useful techniques for caregivers to have a satisfying conversation include: facing the person and maintaining eye contact, repeating key words on the topic, continuing the topic with added information, encouraging interaction by exchanging ideas, needs, and feelings, and using sentences that are simple and short.

For more information on treating and coping with Alzheimer's disease, or for a referral to an ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist, consumers may call 1-800-638-8255 (Spanish-speaking operators available) or go to www.asha.org.

Reprinted with permission from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2004.

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