Scientists develop a new speech therapy to help dementia patients recall lost memories

speech therapy

In a new Northwestern Medicine study, researchers develop a novel telemedicine speech therapy program for people with language problems due to dementia. The therapy can significantly improve patients’ ability to recall words they had “lost.

People with Alzheimer’s dementia or primary progressive aphasia often have language problems, struggling to retrieve the name of a grandchild or find the words to order dinner in a restaurant.

But their aphasia often goes untreated because most speech-language pathologists are trained to help children or individuals with stroke, not those with dementia.

Northwestern scientists are closing that gap by developing a new program, the Communication Bridge.

The program starts with an evaluation to determine a person’s challenges and strengths.

Then it includes 8 therapy sessions with a specialized speech pathologist via a secure video-chat platform, videos to reinforce what was taught during the sessions and home assignments like virtual flashcards and a communication notebook to support language memory.

The study participants included 31 individuals with early-to-mid-stage dementia from 21 states and Canada, and their care-partner.

A care-partner (usually a spouse or family member) and the patient participate in the sessions together.

Whether it’s a couple who has been married for years or a parent and child, these pairs can learn effective communication strategies post-dementia diagnosis.

The pilot results showed the participants made significant improvement in recalling the words they had found troublesome after two months of therapy, and maintained that improvement after 6 months.

One Colorado woman, after 8 weeks of therapy and practice with virtual flashcards, could once again name the flowers in her garden and identify her golf swings. A woman from Alabama was able to retrieve the names of her grandchildren.

The program also helped participants read novels again, a pleasure some of them had lost due to their disease, by simultaneously listening to the book on audio and reading it.

These improvements are especially exciting because neurodegenerative diseases usually cause declines, but these dementia patients are holding onto these gains.

The new study showing the feasibility. The early results of the program is published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions.

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News source: Northwestern University.
Figure legend: This image is for illustrative purposes only.