Occupational and Speech Therapy Can Help You Cope with Alzheimer’s
An Alzheimer’s diagnosis comes with many challenges and stresses, especially as the incurable disease progresses.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you or your loved ones can do to maintain a higher quality of life. After a diagnosis, the quick involvement of both an occupational therapist and speech pathologist can help keep you independent for as long as possible.
Building a Safe Environment
The immediate goal of both areas of therapy is to build a safe environment. An occupational therapist will work with you and your family on strategies for daily activities and self-care tasks. This includes educating families and caregivers on how to provide a safe living environment to reduce the risk of falls and to promote social engagements. This could include things like creating a memory book or a visual schedule – with simple directions for various tasks – that can be followed throughout the day.
People with Alzheimer’s often find change to be particularly challenging. So developing a structured daily routine is important.
There’s also an emphasis on promoting socialization and managing behaviors that can accompany the disease.
Symptoms are likely to be mild during the early stages of the disease. But as it progresses, there will be a broad range of cognitive symptoms, including memory loss, difficulty completing familiar tasks, problems with speaking and writing, withdrawal from social activities and trouble understanding visual images.
A safe environment also includes the ability to communicate. A speech therapist will focus on ways to bridge any communication breakdowns that might be happening. Your speech pathologist will focus on ways to keep you engaged in life. It’s so important for any Alzheimer’s patient to avoid isolation and to continue having conversations with family and friends. That means loved ones need to understand their role and how they can help. Among the strategies:
Reduce distractions during conversations. This could include turning off the television and limiting the number of people in the conversation.
- Maintain eye contact.
- Speak in short, simple sentences.
- Speak slowly and clearly.
- Ask one question at a time.
- Use “yes or no” questions.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Use books, pictures and magazines during conversations.
Your occupational therapist will help identify potential hazards and suggest modifications to your living space to prolong independence. Among the strategies:
- Remove throw rugs and other things that could be a tripping hazard.
- Ensure the home is well lit.
- In the kitchen, make sure nothing is left on counters that could cause harm.
- Look for safer alternatives. For example, a microwave could be used instead of a stove for cooking.
- Make “cheat sheets” with simple instructions for common tasks, including how to use the microwave, TV remote or how to make a sandwich.
Family members should be involved from the start, starting with the first therapy appointment. That goes a long way toward getting everyone on the same page, in terms of what will occur during therapy sessions and what should be happening at home between sessions. That’s essential as the disease progresses.
Typically, a patient will visit their therapist two or three times a week. But there’s considerable work that needs to be done at home between those sessions. Caregivers are tasked with observing and taking notes and then relaying that information back to the therapist, who can design sessions based on identified needs.
These informal reports from caregivers can be invaluable for therapists, who need to know where cognitive or communication breakdowns are occurring. This is often the best way to understand when new difficulties have arisen with particular tasks, such as navigating the TV remote control.
The education also helps the family deal with changes brought on by the disease. Therapists can help set expectations for what the inevitable decline might look like. This helps everyone be better prepared when new changes occur, by having coping strategies already
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