Dementia is already the leading cause of disability in Australians aged over 65 years. So we need to find ways to better support the ever-growing number of older Australians with dementia. There is increasing evidence that speech pathology and dementia go together. Speech pathologists can play an important role in dementia-related communication or swallowing problems. Our goal is to improve the lives of Australians living with dementia.

Speech pathology role in Dementia care

In 2012 Speech Pathology Australia developed best practice statements for dementia care, including:

  1. Referral protocols should include referral to speech pathologists for differential diagnosis of people with dementia-based communication disorders.
  2. Assessment needs to identify the current status of the person’s language impairment and the impact it has on their communication activities, participation and quality of life.
  3. Treatment must track changes over time, monitor improvements, maintenance of abilities or a decline in abilities and adjust the focus of treatment.
  4. Speech pathologists are ethically responsible to provide appropriate services that benefit the individual and maximize cognitive-communication functioning at all stages of the disease process.
  5. Speech pathologists need to be part of dementia care teams. As part of the multidisciplinary approach to the treatment of people with dementia or early signs of language loss, speech pathologists must be included as part of the primary team involved in the assessment and management plans for this group of people.
  6. The development of appropriate supports and information for people with dementia-based communication disorders as well as support for carers.
  7. Regular review and reassessment of the person as the person’s communicative ability changes over time.
  8. Training carers of people with dementia to become stronger communication partners.
  9. Education for individuals and carers about the nature of the disease and the communication disorder, the progression, treatment, support and life planning issues. This will include providing education about the need for strategies that proactively address the consequences of a further decline in communication abilities e.g., how will the client manage future personal, legal, health and financial matters.

Wollongong Speech Pathology and Dementia care

These statements resonate with me. I have a keen interest in helping people with dementia, and the people around them, to communicate at their best. I currently work with people in their homes, offering assessment, therapy, and advice for communication problems associated with dementia. I really believe (and research shows!) that it helps.

So if you, or someone you know, is struggling with communication or swallowing problems associated with dementia, please get in touch and talk about what we can do to help.

Ref: Speech Pathology Australia submission to Australian Government enquiry into dementia diagnosis and intervention (2012).