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How a new therapy can help Alzheimer’s patients to remember names

A new telemedicine speech therapy program has been developed by Northwestern University which helps people with dementia to improve their recall of words and names.

For patients with Alzheimer’s disease, one of the most distressing aspects of the disease can be the inability to remember names or find the appropriate words they need in certain situations. However, this problem often goes untreated as very few speech-therapists have the necessary training to help people with dementia. Now a group of scientists from Northwestern University have developed a new program which they’ve named the Communication Bridge, which enables specially trained speech therapists to treat patients who have a dementia related language problem, otherwise known as aphasia, over the internet.

As a result of their pilot study, it’s been shown that aphasia sufferers were able to make significant improvements in their ability to remember words which they had previously struggled to recall.  These improvements occurred after just two months of the therapy, and were maintained throughout the study. This has proved especially exciting to the team, as a decline in memory is an expected part of a neurodegenerative disease and, until now, there’s been a misconception that people with dementia can’t be helped by speech therapists. Now they’ve been able to clearly demonstrate that individuals with dementia-related aphasia do have the ability to learn.

The new speech therapy program begins by evaluating each individual’s strengths and weaknesses before a specialist speech therapist delivers eight therapy sessions via the internet. The participants also receive video recordings to reinforce each session, together with assignments to do at home. The pilot study involved 31 participants with early to mid-stage dementia, together with their care- partner. At the end of the study, many of the participants felt empowered as they were once again able to fully participate in life and engage in meaningful conversations.

While the scientists are not putting this program forward as a cure for dementia-related aphasia, they do believe that it may help to delay the progression. The results of the study were published in the online journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions.

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