New research into ‘telemedicine’ – providing a therapy a treatment remotely via telecomms technology – could help those with dementia hold onto language abilities
Losing your ability to speak can be one of the hardest symptoms for people with dementia, as they struggle to say the words they want to say, and feel trapped within their own head.
However, new research from Northwestern University in the US has found an online therapy course could help those with aphasia. This is a condition which leads to an inability to comprehend, understand and say words. It’s common in people with some forms of dementia, as well as those with brain injuries or who have had a stroke.
In the past, speech and language therapists have been trained to help children or people who have had a stroke, but not those with dementia.
However, a new programme called the Communication Bridge has been developed. Specially trained speech and language therapists offer personalised therapy over the web (aka ‘telemedicine’) via a secure video-chat platform, and reinforced with home assignments using videos, virtual flashcards and a communication notebook.
In the study, the online therapy helped one woman once again identify the tulips and daffodils in her garden. A man was able to issue commands to his border collie to herd sheep on his farm again, and order his favourite meal from his local restaurant. One woman was able to retrieve the names of her grandchildren. The programme also helped some participants read novels again, by listening to the book on audio and simultaneously reading it.
The improvements started after two months of therapy, and was maintained for six months after it.
‘There’s a misconception that speech-language pathologists can’t help people with dementia, but, in fact, they have many tools that can be helpful,’ said lead author Emily Rogalski.
‘These improvements are especially exciting because in neurodegenerative diseases we would expect declines, but these patients are holding onto these gains. This is not a cure, but we may be able to delay some of the progression and maximize that person’s remaining abilities so they can compensate as long as possible.’
Becky Khayum, a speech and language pathologist who worked on the programme said:
‘A lot of people said they went from feeling like they had no control over their disease to feeling like were really fighting back and empowered.
‘They felt like they could more fully participate in life in spite of their disease.’
So what does that mean for those who want to try the programme, particularly those not living in the United States, where the study took place? The good news is that because it is online, theoretically, it should be available to anyone with a computer and access to the internet. What’s more, the researchers are still recruiting to take part in the study. Click here for more information.
The study is published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions.